Report 23: Witness hearings pt. 3

Gohardasht prison in Iran. One of the prisons where many persons were executed in the summer of 1988. Photo: Gohardasht Prison / Ensie & Matthias (flickr.com) / CC BY-SA 2.0

In our previous report, we provided a summary of the hearings with witnesses 10 and 11. In this report we will provide summaries of hearings with witnesses 12 and 13 held on 20 and 21 January. The next trial day is on 24 January. 

Witness 12

During the hearing with witness 12, it was only prosecutor Kristina Lindhoff Carleson among the two prosecutors, whom was present in the court room. Prosecutor Martina Winslow followed the hearing over video link. Before Kristina Lindhoff Carleson began the hearing, the witness told the court that he was suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic tiredness, upon which judge Zander replied that the witness should let the court know if he needed a break throughout his hearing. 

Prosecutor Lindhoff Carleson commenced and asked the witness why he was brought to court in Iran in the 1980s. The witness explained that he was an active member of a communist party by the name of “Etihadieh Kommunistha” and that he was arrested in the month of Tir 1360 (1981). After his arrest, he was brought before three different committees until he was finally transferred to Evin prison. In 1361 (1982) the witness was sentenced to twelve years in prison for sympathising with the communist party. The witness also served his prison sentence at Ghezel Hesar prison. In 1365 (1986) he was transferred to Gohardasht prison where he was incarcerated until the month of Esfand 1367 (1989). He spent the last three months of his imprisonment in Evin prison before he was released around the month of Khordad in 1368 (1989). 

The prosecution further asked the witness about the roles of Naserian, Lashkari and Abbasi in Gohardasht prison in 1367 (1988). The witness answered that Naserian was a “dadyar” and the governor of Gohardasht prison. Lashkari was described by the witness as responsible for the prison security while Abbasi was also described as a “dadyar”. The witness further explained that “wherever Naserian was, Abbasi was with him. They could not be separated from each other”. The witness remembered one time in 1365 (1986) when the TV was broken at his prison unit and he and his prison mates had asked for it to be fixed. At that time, the witness had seen Naserian, Abbasi, Lashkari and “Arab”. When the prosecution asked who Arab was, the witness replied that he was also a “dadyar”. “Naserian had two wings, one of them was Abbasi and the other was Arab. But he [Naserian] had more trust in Abbasi”. While the witness portraited their relationship, the defendant laughed. 

The witness was asked to tell the court about the interactions he had with Abbasi in Gohardasht prison in 1367 (1988). The witness recounted one time early in the morning, in the middle of the month of Shahrivar, when Lashkari and Abbasi together with some other guards opened the door to their section. By that time, the prisoners had understood, by communicating with other prisoners through morse code, that executions were ongoing in Gohardasht prison. The prisoners were told to put on blindfolds and get out. The witness explained that he did not even get to put on his slippers or change from his pajamas. The prisoners were placed in line in a corridor. For around seven hours, they sat on the floor facing the wall, still blindfolded. The hallway then filled with the voices of Lashkari, Abbasi and Naserian, “the whole gang”. As the prisoners was transferred from the corridor to separate rooms, they were hit “in the most brutal way (…) Our lives and bodies did not matter, an eye could have been thrown away. Nobody cared.” The witness explained that when the prison management took part in this kind of abuse, they would hit the prisoners with full force and would “show enthusiasm”, in order to encourage the guards to do the same. The abuse in the hallway went on for about an hour. The prisoners were then locked into different rooms, and subsequently taken out of those rooms and questioned one by one by Naserian and Abbasi. The witness recounted how the “dadyar” had asked him during his interrogation whether he prayed, upon which he had answered that he did not. The defendant had then responded that they would do something that would change this behaviour. He was subsequently brought to solitary confinement, which he claimed would happen to every person who responded during interrogations that they did not pray. The prosecution asked if the witness knew which date this happened, upon which he responded that he did not since “for 1.5 month, we had no TV, no newspaper and no calendar”. After one or two hours in solitary confinement, the witness was taken out of his cell, blindfolded, and brought to the corridor outside. In the corridor there was a bunk on which the witness was put on his stomach. The witness explained that he was flogged ten times for each time he should have said his prayers during the day. According to the prison staff, he should have prayed five times that day. The same treatment was repeated for a duration of three days. The witness further described that, according to prison staff’s interpretation of Islamic law, the person who performed the flogging had to carry the Quran under his arm during the abuse. On the third day of the abusive treatment, the witness responded that he would pray. “I couldn’t take it any longer. My whole back and my feet… I was mangled.” When he was allowed to remove his blindfold, he saw Naserian and the defendant and understood that they were the ones who had asked if he would conduct his prayers. The witness was then taken to ”Hosseinieh” (a part of Gohardasht prison that previous witnesses and plaintiffs have mentioned as the place where the executions took place) together with other prisoners for a collective prayer session. The witness explained to the court that before you do your prayers, you must wash up. “They [the prison managers] didn’t actually want us to pray, they wanted to break us down. Abbasi and Naserian told me to do my prayers, but I was all dirty. What kind of prayer is that?” 

The witness was further asked if he saw the defendant at any other occasion during the execution period. The witness replied that he did, and he guessed that it was around the 25th of the month of Bahman 1367 (1989), when the prisoners were allowed to receive visitors again. They were around 100 prisoners that had been taken to a big hall, where the prisoners and their families were seated on the floor. This place, the witness explained, was the ”Hosseinieh”. The witness met his mother, sister, and brother that day. “Some of them understood what had happened. (…) Some only knew that they would meet their children, but not that they would meet them where the children of other families had been executed”. The witness further described that when the families were informed that the executions had been conducted in that same room, a worried mumbling spread among the people present. The defendant then got up on a stage with a microphone and told everyone to be quiet. As the witness recounted this, he turned against the defendant, raised his voice, and said to him to tell the court if this was true or not. Judge Thomas Zander told the witness to calm down and not ask the defendant questions. 

At the end of the prosecution’s hearing, the witness was asked if the defendant in the court room was the same person, Abbasi, who he had been talking about during the questioning. As the witness and the defendant looked at each other, the witness shouted, “speak up so I can hear you”, upon which a rather heated debate erupted between the witness and the judge. The witness was told not to speak to the defendant and the witness replied that the defendant had mumbled and grimaced when they looked at each other. 

Defense counsel Thomas Söderqvist led the defense team’s hearing with the witness, which focused on the perceived discrepancies between the statements made by the witness in court and statements made during his hearing with the Swedish police. The defense counsel asked the witness several questions about a sketch that he had done during the police hearing and the position of the ”Hosseinieh” in that sketch. The witness said that he had told the police that he is a bad painter and that he placed the ”Hosseinieh” somewhat randomly in his sketch. When the defense counsel said that the sketch was in line with the witness verbal explanation to the police, the witness replied: “it has been 33 years, my memories fail me. (…) What mattered to me then was my life, nothing else.

Witness 13

The prosecution began their questioning with the witness by asking him why he was incarcerated and whether he sympathised with any political organisation at the time of his arrest. The witness replied that he was a member of a leftist communist organisation, called “Fadaian Khalq”. The witness was arrested in 1363 (1984) and sentenced to prison because of his sympathies with the organisation. The witness was incarcerated in Evin prison and then transferred to Gohardasht prison by the end of the fall of 1364 (1985), where he spent two years. Towards the end of his imprisonment, during the winter of 1367 (1988/1989), he was transferred back to Evin prison, where he spent about two weeks.  

The prosecution asked the witness who he remembered from the prison management in Gohardasht during the execution period. The witness replied that the management was in “constant change” during his time there, but that he remembered that “Haj Mahmoud” had a leading role, and that Hamid Noury was an assistant to Naserian. Naserian, the witness explained, was the prison manager and a Mullah (a clergy or a person with a higher education in Islamic theology and sharia law). Although, the witness said, the prisoners never saw Naserian wear typical Mullah clothing. The witness also mentioned that there was a classification of prisoners in Gohardasht prison. In 1366 (1987) the leftist prisoners and the MEK sympathisers were separated from each other. This separation was conducted through interrogation of the prisoners, by, amongst others, Noury and Naserian.

The witness further described the situation in Gohardasht prison in 1367 (1988). The witness said that “it all began on the 7th of the month of Mordad”. Until that day, the prisoners had been allowed to listen to the radio twice a day. On the 7th of the month of Mordad, the prisoner’s radio was removed, along with their TV. The prisoners were neither allowed to take walks in the prison yard or receive visits from family and friends. “All channels to the outer world were removed, which had never happened before.” However, they would still hear the guard’s radio as the Friday prayer was broadcasted. The prisoners could hear that they were talking about executions in the sermon. 

The witness went on to describe the events that took place in his section at the time when the executions took place. All the prisoners from the witness’ section were told to put on blindfolds and were taken into a corridor. The prisoners were placed on each side of the corridor and then taken into a room where they were questioned. The witness further described that the defendant, the day after they had been taken to the corridor, opened the door to the room he was in and told ten prisoners to come with him to the “commission”. The “commission” turned out to be the so-called death committee. When the prisoners arrived to the room were the committee presided; they did not know what was about to happen. Naserian, who was a committee-member, pointed to one of the prisoners and told a guard to “take this malicious man to the left”. The witness explained that the prison staff used “to the left” as a code for execution. They never saw that prisoner again and the witness said that he thought he had been executed through hanging. The main question the prisoners got from the committee was whether they were Muslim or Marxist. “This question could cost you your life (…) Defending your ideologies equaled death”. When the prosecution asked the witness to mention the names of the other prisoners who were taken to the committee together with him, the witness replied that he was “afraid of that viper”, referring to the defendant. He also said that since they are in Iran, he did not want to say their names. 

The witness was taken to the death committee a second time on the 9th of the month of Shahrivar in 1367 (1988). “This time I said I was Muslim.” When he was taken out of the committee’s room by Naserian, he was met by a guard with a razor who shaved of half of his moustache. “Your moustache has a special value in Iran. They did that to humiliate me.” The witness was also handed a hand-written note by the guards that they told him to sign. The note contained a text that read something along the lines of “I, who do not behave as a Muslim, ensure that I will start fulfilling my duty according to the religion. I also ensure to do my prayers”. The witness signed the paper but crossed over the words saying that he would do his prayers. When Naserian appeared by his side and saw this, he tore the paper apart and started to hit him. The witness was thrown into a room where there were four other prisoners who had handled the note in the same way that he had. Four guards came into the room and again asked the prisoners if they would do their prayers. When the prisoners replied that they would not, the physical abuse continued. 

During the second half of the prosecution’s hearing, the witness was asked about names that he had mentioned in the two books that he has published and that were also mentioned in his interview with the Abdorrahm Boroumand Foundation. When the witness was asked about one prisoner’s name, the witness recounted that this prisoner was very interested in flowers. “During the time that the visits were withdrawn, the flowers on the prison yard withered. He [the prisoner] created a hose so that he could water the flowers through his window”. As a final question, the prosecution asked the witness if he had seen pictures of the defendant online and in that case, how he had reacted to those pictures. The witness replied that when he saw the pictures, he was thrown back to the events of the massacre when everyone he loved was executed, but that he also felt joy that maybe there would be justice. 

Defence counsel Daniel Marcus led the defence teams’ hearing with the witness. The counsel stated that this was the 59th day of the trial and asked whether the witness had been following the trial prior to his own hearing in court. The witness replied that he had the ambition to listen to as much as possible. When Daniel Marcus asked the witness how many days he had been listening, the witness in his turn wondered why the defence counsel asked him this question. The witness was then scolded by the judge and told not to counter-question the defence team. The defence counsel further asked the witness if he had participated in any public events regarding his imprisonment. The witness explained that every year he takes part in a ceremony for the surviving prisoners of Gohardasht. 

Next report

In our next report, we will provide summaries of the hearings with witnesses 14, 15 and 16 which will be held on 24, 25 and 27 January. 

A translated version of this report in Farsi can be found here.