Report 24: Witness hearings pt. 4

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 hearings with witnesses 12 and 13. In this report we will provide summaries of hearings with witnesses 14 and 15 held on 24 and 25 January. A hearing was conducted with witness 16 on 27 January, which will not be covered by this report. The next trial day is on 1 February.

Witness 14

The trial day was opened by judge Zander, stating that the witness would be heard about his observations from Gohardasht prison during 1988. The prosecution began their hearing by asking the witness where and why he was arrested and where and when he served his prison sentence. 

The witness told the court that he was arrested in the month of Esfand 1362 (1983) due to his activities with the communist party “Tudeh”. The witness explained that he was sentenced to prison since he had continued his activities in the party also after the party had been declared illegal by the Islamic regime. The witness said he thought the “Tudeh” party had been declared illegal in the month of Ordibehesht in 1362 (1983). The witness received his verdict a year and a half after his arrest and was sentenced to ten years in prison. He was incarcerated in Evin prison from the time of his arrest but was transferred to Gohardasht at some point during the beginning of 1365 (1986), where he stayed until the month of Bahman 1367 (January/February 1989). The witness told the court that he was transferred back to Evin prison after the execution period, and that he spent the end of his imprisonment there. 

The prosecution asked the witness who he remembered from the prison management in Gohardasht. The witness replied that he remembered ”Mortazavi”, who was a mullah who was short and thin. He did not work there for long. When he had left, Naserian and Lashkari arrived. The witness described that Naserian “took care of everything at the prison” while Lashkari was responsible for the prison security. The prosecution asked the witness if he remembered any other names. The witness responded that he had heard from other prisoners of “Abbasi” but that he never had any contact with him. 

The prosecution further asked the witness if he did any specific observations during the month of Mordad in 1367 (1988) in Gohardasht prison. The witness replied that “really bad things happened also before the executions. (…) You could notice that it was an abnormal situation.” He further explained that he would hear prisoners scream and other sounds of torture while talking walks in the prison yard. The fear that these sounds, and the reasons for the sounds, invoked in them, made it impossible to use the prison yard. The witness also described that the prisoners contacts with the outside world were withdrawn during this time period and that they could see through the windows that new prisoners were constantly being transported to Gohardasht prison in minibuses.   

When the prosecution asked the witness if he remembered when the prisoners had gotten isolated from the outer world, the witness replied that he thought it was on the 7th of the month of Mordad 1367 (July/August 1988) but that he had made a mark in his calendar already on the 27th of month of Tir 1367 (June/July 1988), which was probably because his section was cut off earlier than the others. The prosecution wanted the witness to elaborate on the calendar that he had mentioned. The witness responded that things had been different in prison prior to the execution period. The prisoners had access to pen, paper, and books. “But this all came to change.” The witness further explained that he had a code system where he would blur dates in the calendar. The dates that he would mark would be days when something “particularly terrible happened.” He never wrote any specific notes in the calendar, as he was afraid to get caught with it. Pictures of the calendar were displayed in the court room in Stockholm later during the hearing. 

One of the dates that had been marked in the calendar by the witness, was the first day when he had seen trucks in the prison yard. The witness and his cellmates saw the guards moving the load around to try to make it fit on the loading platforms. After a while, the witness understood that the load was dead bodies. “From that day my entire world fell apart. (…) It had turned into a butchery.” The prosecution asked the witness whether he saw these trucks several times, to which he responded that it often happened three times a day, during twelve days. He recounted seeing a total of 17 trucks with around 50 bodies on each truck. 

The prosecution further wanted the witness to tell the court about the time that he was taken to the so-called death committee in the month of Mordad 1367 (1988). The witness described that, at the time, he and the other prisoners had thought that the situation had stabilised. On the 25th of the month of Mordad, the prisoners in the witness’ section were brusquely moved into a corridor and placed in line. Naserian took the prisoners one by one into the room where the committee presided. When the witness entered, he was placed on a chair in front of three persons; Nayyeri, Eshraqi and a man who the witness later understood was “head of security.” The three of them asked him questions, such as what the name of his father was, if he defended his earlier political beliefs and if he did his prayers. The witness responded he did not do his prayers. For this, he was punished with flogging ten times for each time he did not pray during a day. During the physical abuse, the witness was tied with his stomach upon a bunk and hit on the soles of his feet. “They flogged us with full force.” The witness told the court that when he was taken to the death committee for the second time in the month of Shahrivar 1367, his feet were hurt so badly and were so swollen that his slippers did no longer fit. The witness showed his feet to Naserian, who was present in the room where the committee presided, and said to him; “if this is Islam, I am not Muslim.” The witness was again taken to the corridor, where prisoners were sitting on each side of the hallway. The witness understood that the names that were called out by the guards, were the names of prisoners who were to be taken to execution. He asked one of the guards for permission to visit the bathroom. Once inside the bathroom, he wrote his name inside his underwear, so that he could later be identified. But his name was never called out. 

The prosecution did not manage to finalize their hearing with the witness before the end of the trial day, while the defense did not get a chance to question the witness at all. The rest of the hearing was therefore postponed to a later date. The defense team mentioned that they were not pleased with the fact that they had been given the opportunity to question witnesses late in the afternoon, upon which judge Zander responded that the court would come back with a date for the rest of the days’ hearing. Zander also noted that the scheduled dates for the prosecution and the defense team’s final statement would likely be postponed in order to fit in more days of hearings. 

Witness 15

Judge Zander opened the trial day by stating that the witness would be heard about his observations from Gohardasht and Evin prison during 1988–1989. 

The prosecution commenced and asked the witness where and why he was arrested and where and when he served his prison sentence. The witness explained that he was arrested due to his political engagement in the month of Mordad 1362 (1983). When he was arrested, the witness was taken to Evin prison for interrogation where he spent about 5 months before he was transferred to Ghezel Hesar prison. In Ghezel Hesar prison, the witness was handed an 8 years prison sentence due to his engagement in the political organisation Peykar. Towards the end of year 1362 (1983), the witness was transferred from Ghezel Hesar back to Evin prison. In the month of Mordad 1367 (1988), the witness was taken to Gohardasht prison where he was kept until the month of Azar or Dey 1367. The witness spent his last month of incarceration in Evin prison before he was released in the month of Esfand 1367. 

The prosecution asked the witness what he remembered about the prison management in Gohardasht prison. The witness responded that he remembers “two important names, Naserian and Lashkari.” He further explained that he had seen them in Gohardasht and that they had visited his section after the executions together with Abbasi. According to the witness, Naserian was a “dadyar” while Lashkari was a “manager.” The prosecution asked the witness to tell the court what he remembered about the person that the referred to as “Abbasi”. The witness recounted a situation when he and his prison mates had been wakened up early in the morning by guards who took them to a hall. The witness told the court that he thought this happened about three times. In the hall, prisoners were placed in several lines behind one guard who started to pray. The prisoners were supposed to copy what he was doing. In front of them were also Naserian and Abbasi. When the prisoners had done their prayers, Naserian told them that “the easy period in prison” was over. Abbasi stood quiet but looked at each one of the prisoners and smiled. This happened, the witness explained, in the beginning of the month of Mehr in 1367 (1988), after the execution period. 

The witness was further asked to tell the court about the execution period. The witness recounted that the period began in the month of Tir 1367 (June/July 1988) and that the prisoners were no longer allowed to listen to the radio or read the newspaper. “There were people in our section who could contact other sections through morse code. That is how we found out about the executions. But it was so surreal that we could not believe it.” During the month of Shahrivar 1367 (August/September), the morse-communication intensified, and the prisoners understood it was serious. At one point during this time period, the witness was blindfolded and brought to a place together with other prisoners, were they were placed in lines with half a meter distance between them. The witness was asked whether he was a Muslim and whether he did his prayers. As the witness answered that he had never prayed and that he did not know how, he was placed in another part of the section. There were other prisoners sitting there, and the witness guessed that they had all answered the same as him, that they would not pray. The witness then heard the voice of whom he thought was Naserian say; “The sharia judge has said that every Muslim who does not do his prayers will be flogged. For each time during the day that you do not pray, you will be flogged ten times.” The prisoners were then asked if they had changed their mind about praying. Some of the prisoners did and went to say their prayers but the witness hesitated as he was unsure of whether the guards would follow through with their threats. Shortly after, they heard people screaming. The witness was taken away and placed with his stomach down on a bunk. As he laid there, he was flogged on the soles of his feet. “All my energy had run out (…) I raised my hand and said I would do my prayers.” The witness told the court he believed this happened around the middle of the month of Shahrivar, about a week before the events he mentioned previously, when they were forced to pray in front of Naserian and Abbasi.  

The prosecution asked the witness when he was made aware of the name of the guard who he refers to as “Abbasi”. The witness replied that it was around the month of Esfand 1369. The witness wife was incarcerated in Evin prison at the time and the witness went to Evin prison to try to get her released. The witness was blindfolded and taken to meet Abbasi at the “dadyar office”, whom he understood had the power to decide whether his wife would be released or not. During the meeting, Abbasi allowed the witness’ wife a two week furlough, after which she never returned to Evin prison. 

In the end of the prosecution’s hearing, the witness was asked whether he recognized the defendant, Hamid Noury. The witness replied that “I prefer not looking at him, but if I have to, I will.” While the prosecution answered him that they could not force him, judge Zander stated that the witness has no option but to testify if he recognizes the defendant or not. The witness looked at Hamid Noury and told the court that he was one hundred percent sure the defendant was the same man that he had referred to as “Abbasi” throughout his hearing. 

Defense counsel Daniel Marcus led the defense team’s hearing with the witness. Marcus 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 to comment on the fact that he, in his police hearing, had mentioned “Naseri” as one of the leading figures in Gohardasht prison and that he had also told the police that the prisoners did not know him by any other name. The witness replied that he had said the name wrong during the police hearing and that the name of that man is “Naserian”. The defense counsel further asked the witness about the furlough-decision that was given to the witness’ wife by “Abbasi”. Daniel Marcus wanted to know whether Abbasi’s signature would be on those papers if they were to be requested from Evin prison. The witness responded that he never saw “Abbasi” sign any papers and that they left Evin prison without any documentation. 

Next report

In our next report, we will provide summaries of the hearings with witnesses 17, 18 and 19 and plaintiff 36, which will be held on 1, 2, 3 and 4 February. 

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