Report 25: Witness hearings pt. 5

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

In our previous report, we provided a summary of the first part of a hearing with witness 14 and a complete hearing with witness 15, which were held on 24 and 25 January. After those hearings, the trial proceedings came to a halt due to sickness among key actors in the trial. Proceedings resumed after a week and a half, on 11 February, with the first part of a hearing with witness 17 held in the morning and the last part of a hearing with witness 14 in the afternoon. The hearing with witness 17 was concluded on 14 February. In this report, we will provide a summary of the hearing which were held on 11 and 14 February.

Witness 17                      

The trial day was opened by judge Zander who started by noting that the court has had to postpone hearings due to sickness. It was also noted that one of the counsels for an injured party was momentarily replaced due to sickness and that one of the prosecutors would have to conduct the hearing over link due to sickness.

The hearing with witness 17 was conducted over link since the witness was in another country and could not participate in person. Due to time difference, the hearings were held earlier in the morning than usual. Judge Zander further noted that the hearing was going to have to be cut short due to the same reason and would continue again on Monday morning the following week.

Judge Zander then gave the floor to one of the prosecutors, who started her hearing with the witness by stating that she was going to refer to written evidence in the form of two books that had been written by the witness about his experiences during his time in prison.

The witness explained that he was arrested in the month of Aban 1363 (1984), due to his membership in the leftist political organisation “Fadaian” which opposed the Islamic Republic. A year passed between his arrest and his sentencing. During that year, he was incarcerated in Evin prison, where he was subjected to torture and kept in solitary confinement.

He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for being affiliated with a leftist political organisation that opposed the state and for using an alias.

The witness then moved on to describe how he had been transferred between different prisons before being sent to Gohardasht prison in 1365 (1986). During the first couple of months in Gohardasht prison, the witness was repeatedly moved between different sections.

By the end of the month of Azar and the beginning of the month of Dey 1366 (1987), the prisoners were separated and interrogated. The questions during the interrogations were of a religious character. After the separation in Dey, the witness and his fellow prisoners were moved again. The witness and some other inmates were sent to section six. The prisoners had been separated into two categories: religious and leftist prisoners.  About 55 people were moved to section six and they were all leftists. In section five, where the witness was placed, all prisoners were leftist prisoners with longer prison sentences than ten years.

The prosecutor moved on to ask the witness about the leadership of the prison. The witness said that, to his understanding, Naserian was responsible for the prison. Lashkari was second in command for the security in the prison. Abbasi was a “dadyar”. The witness was then asked how he knew these people and what contact he had had with them. He told the court that the names of these individuals were not held secret. The prisoners had for example been told by the guards that Naserian would come and speak with them. Prisoners who had been in the prison for a longer period knew Lashkari, who had earlier been a guard. Further, when prisoners had to see the dadyar, the guards would simply say: “go see dadyar Abbasi.”

The witness was then asked about his own experiences of Abbasi and whether he had met him personally. The witness said that he had met Abbasi in person, in the year of 1366 (1987) in section three. It was during a hunger strike. Naserian, Abbasi and Lashkari had come to the section with food. This was the first time the witness saw Abbasi. The prisoners who were hunger striking had then been informed by the three individuals that if they would not eat, they would be whipped. The prosecutor asked the witness how he knew that one of the three individuals were Abbasi if this was the first time he saw him. The witness told the court that he knew it was Abbasi because other prisoners who had been to the dadyar office had told him that this person was Abbasi. The witness then said that in the prison sections the prisoners were not blindfolded, so he could see the three individuals clearly.

The witness also encountered Abbasi on another occasion, after the mass executions had taken place. In the month of Aban 1367 (1988), he was sent to a room where Abbasi was seated across from him. According to the witness, Abbasi hade looked through his file and burst out “you managed to escape”. Abbasi then asked him a few questions and sent him back to his section.

The witness was then asked by the prosecutor about his observations during the month of Mordad in 1367 (1988). The witness described that the events that led up to the mass executions began during Ramadan in the month of Farvardin 1367 (1988). At this point, the prison gates were reinforced, and a new door made of iron was installed between two prison sections. The witness explained that he had interpreted these changes as a sign that something was about to happen. On the seventh of Mordad, the prison section was stormed by guards. The televisions were removed and so were the radios. The right to read the newspaper or take walks in the prison yard were also restricted. By way of morse code, the prisoners learned that this type of restrictions were also being enforced in other prison sections.

During this time period, around the 8 or 9 or the month of Mordad, the prisoners observed through a window in the bathroom area that approximately 20 prisoners from other sections were marched over the prison yard and let in through a door one-by-one. The witness explained that it was not possible to see what was happening inside, but that they could see inside the room when the door opened and that they noted that there were a lot of slippers piled on the floor.

In another event, the witness had observed two to three groups of about 20 people being transported across the yard in a similar manner. The witness explained that prisoners had later stopped being taken to this area in the prison yard and he had been informed that prisoners were instead taken to the “amphitheatre”.

After making these observations, the witness and his fellow prisoners had tried to contact the prisoners in the so-called “colour section.” The witness explained that each section in the prison had its own so-called colour section, where prisoners were brought to be punished. The witness and his fellow prisoners managed to contact the prisoners in the colour section, and they were informed that everyone in the section below their section had met the same fate as the individuals earlier observed in the prison yard.

The prosecutor asked the witness if any prisoner were taken out from his section during this time period. The witness answered no. During this period, according to the witness, those in charge of the prison were focused on persecuting prisoners who sympathised with the MEK. The witness explained that between 7 Mordad to 25 or 26 Mordad, the so-called death committee dealt with prisoners who sympathised with the MEK. For a while after the 25 or 26 Mordad, the witness and the other prisoners in his section did not note much activity. However, towards the end of the month of Mordad, some of the prisoners in his prison section were taken out of their cells to be punished because they had allegedly pounded on their cell doors. The witness’ cellmate who had also been a sympathiser of “Fadaian” was one of those taken out to be punished.  The witness also named another person who was taken out to be punished. None of them returned to the section, and the witness never saw them again. The witness had later been in contact with those persons’ families who had explained that they had been executed, which had been confirmed by the political organizations that they were a part of.  These persons had already served their prison sentences when they were executed, said the witness.

After the 5th of Shahrivar, more people were taken out of their sections to be taken to questioning.  On the 5th Shahrivar, prisoners from section 7 were in focus. Out of those who were brought to questioning, only some came back while most did not. The reason the witness knew about this was because the prisoners that had in fact been brought back to section 7 from questioning, was communicating information to his section through morse code. Those that had been brought to questioning had been asked different questions and separated into two groups depending on how they had responded to the questions. One group was allowed to go back to their section while the other group did not. On the 6th of Shahrivar, the prisoners in section 8 faced a similar treatment. The prisoners then understood that the line of questioning was of a religious character and that the questions were focused on the religious faith of the individual prisoners.

On the 10th Shahrivar, the turn had reached his section. The witness recounted how Lashkari and some guards arrived to their section at 11 in the morning and told the prisoners to put on their blindfolds. He and the other prisoners were taken to a staircase were the guards locked the doors from all directions, so it was not possible to escape. About 30-40 prisoners were kept there for about an hour. They were scared and feared what was going to happen next. The prison guards then led the prisoners one-by-one into a corridor. One of the persons in charge started asking the prisoners questions. The prisoners answered the questions tactically, since they knew what the purpose of the questioning was and what would happen if they did not answer the questions in a certain manner. However, two prisoners were still taken away and separated from the others. The other prisoners, including the witness, were told to sit and wait in the corridor.

After an hour of waiting, Lashkari came and started to ask more questions. The witness explained that he knew that it was Lashkari, despite wearing a blindfold, because he had met him several times before and he recognized his voice. He was asked by Lashkari whether he believed in God and whether he prayed. The prisoners had decided amongst each other that they would respond that they believed in God but that they would not except doing the prayers. When the witness had responded in this manner, Lashkari ordered the guards to take him to the committee. The witness and two other prisoners who had answered Lashkari’s questions in a similar manner were taken to the ground floor. There they could see from underneath their blindfolds that other prisoners were already sitting and waiting. What happened then was that prisoners were taken one by one into a connecting room where the so-called death committee was presiding. After the prisoners had been inside the committee’s room on their own, they would be followed out by Naserian who would instruct the prison guards to either take the prisoner to the left or the right.

When the witness had been brought before the death committee, he was sat down on a chair, which was placed in the centre of the room, and told to lift his blindfold. There were several of people in the room. One was a mullah, and the others wore civilian clothes. The witness did not recognise the individuals at the time, but he had heard their names before. The mullah was named Nayyeri and had been a sharia judge at the Evin prison. Another person, Eshraghi, had become a prosecutor and the witness had read about him in the newspapers. The other five individuals in the room were unknown to the witness. The committee asked him about his religious beliefs, and he answered as he imagined that the members of the committee wanted him to respond. However, he declined when asked whether he would conduct his prayers. Once out of the room, the witness was brought to a group of other prisoners and harassed by the guards, who even shaved their moustaches. Later that evening, Lashkari arrived and divided the prisoners into groups and sent them in different directions. The group in which the witness was placed, was sent to the “amphitheatre”, where they were forced to do their prayers. They were told that they would be whipped 20 times if they refused. The whipping took place on beds, where the prisoners forced to lay face-down. Eventually, the prisoners concluded that they would agree to do their prayers in order not to be whipped any further and were returned to section 8.

The witness recounted that he stayed in section 8 until the 12th of Shahrivar, after which he was subjected to further questioning. At this point, the witness was brought to section 10 of the prison and placed in solitary confinement for two weeks. While in solitary confinement, he was expecting to be executed at any moment. By the 27th of Shahrivar, the situation in the prison had started to return to how it had been before the executions. For example, listening to radio was allowed again. One day, the witness was escorted by a guard to the “colour section” to collect his belongings. The witness noticed that the belongings of fellow prisoners whom he suspected had been executed were still there. According to the witness, a total of 6 persons among the 50 persons who stayed in his section had been executed. The reason that the number was not higher was because the prisoners were brought to the committee late and that they had therefore figured out how they were supposed to respond to the committee’s questions.

The witness was further asked by the prosecutor about the two books that he has published about his time in prison and about the persons that he mentioned in those books. When asked about how he knew that the prisoners had been hanged, which he had described in his books, the witness responded that other prisoners had told him that they had seen the prisoners executed. The witness was also asked about the paragraphs in his books in which the defendant was mentioned and about the fact that the witness had used the defendant’s real name in the book. The witness responded that he had done research while writing the books, which had led him to find the defendant’s real name. He further added that he had previously only known the defendant as “Abbasi”. The witness was also asked about when the books had been written, when they had been published and which volumes the books had been published in. The witness explained that one book had been published in 2011 and that another had been published in 2015, which had been published in two volumes with different titles. The real name of the defendant had been mentioned in one of those two volumes.   

Due to the time difference, the hearing with the witness was paused and resumed a few days later upon which the prosecution continued its questioning of the witness. The witness was asked whether he remembered what the person that he called Abbasi looked like, upon which the witness responded that Abbasi was ten years younger than him, wore a suit and a shirt with a collar that looked like a priest collar. His face was round, and he had hair on his head. The witness was then asked if he had seen pictures of the defendant in media or on the internet. The witness responded that he had seen pictures of the defendant for the first time in connection to the defendant’s arrest. The witness was then told to look at the defendant and tell the court whether this was the same person who he referred to as Abbasi. The witness looked at the defendant and said that it was him, only thirty years older and a bit thinner. As the witness was looking at the defendant, the defendant started smiling and swinging back and forth in his chair while looking directly towards the monitor where the video image of the witness was being projected.

Once the prosecution had finalized its hearing, the witness was heard by the plaintiff counsels who asked the witness whether he recognized certain names and whether those people had been imprisoned together with him. The witness was not familiar with most of the names. Some he had heard of but did not know personally.

The defence counsel, Daniel Marcus, initiated his hearing with the witness by asking whether he had followed the trial proceedings in any manner. The witness responded that he had not, except for what had been written in the newspapers and perhaps some more. He was further asked how he had found out that the defendant had been arrested. The witness responded that he had been made aware of this mainly through newspapers but also that two individuals had contacted him and told him that Swedish police was conducting an investigation. He had been asked by one of the individuals whether he would be willing to participate as a witness.

The defence counsels went on to ask about the books that the witness had written and the publishing dates of those books.  The witness replied by asking the defence counsel whether the counsel thought that he was making the dates up. The witness was then interrupted by the judge, who told the witness not to evaluate the defence counsel’s questions. The counsel then asked why the witness had chosen to use Abbasi’s real name in the book, but not the real names of Naserian and Lashkari and pointed out that the witness had previously said that he had found Abbasi’s name after doing research and that this was the reason that he had used his real name and not the real names of the other two persons. The defence counsel further noted that it was strange that the witness had commented that he was not aware of the names of the other two individuals, since it would have been easy to find out their names. The counsel was then reprimanded by Judge Zander, who told him not to evaluate the witness’ responses.  When the hearings had been concluded, Judge Zander turned to the witness and said that he appreciated that the witness had been able to participate in the proceedings despite the time difference. The witness responded that he appreciated the opportunity to be able to shed light on these events after four decades.

Witness 14, p. 2

The hearing with witness 14 commenced on 24 January and was continued on 11 February. A summary of the earlier hearing with witness 14 can be found in report 24.

Judge Zander started the hearing by apologising for the fact that the witness has had to come back and continue the hearing at this later date. The judge then gave to floor to the prosecution, which continued its hearing with the witness.

Due to illness, the prosecutor was taking part in the hearing over the video conference system. While the link was being set up, a member of the court noted that music played by the protesters outside in the street could be heard into the courtroom. The judge then turned to a guard and asked him to contact the police so that they could tell the protesters to be less noisy. A few moments later, the prosecutor was ready to start the questioning and the protesters had turned their volume down.

The prosecution started the hearing by asking the witness about different names of persons who were allegedly executed in Gohardasht prison. The witness was asked how he knew these people and how he knows that they were executed. The witness said that he was made aware of their execution by other prisoners, by relatives of the executed persons and by the fact that they had been taken away by the prison guards never to be seen again.

Following the prosecutions’ hearing, the plaintiff counsels commenced their hearing with the witness, which also focused on names of persons and whether the witness was aware of what had happened to those persons.

After the plaintiff counsels had concluded their hearing, the defence counsel Thomas Söderqvist initiated his hearing by asking the witness about how long he had been incarcerated. The defence counsel pointed out the fact that he had been sentenced to 10 years in prison but was released after 5 years. The witness was then asked about the leadership structure in the prison. The witness answered that Naserian was the main person in charge of the prison and that Lashkari was a type of enforcer who oversaw security. The rest of the hearing predominately focused on what the defence considered as discrepancies between what the witness had said during the hearing and what he had said to the police during the preliminary investigation.

Once the hearings had been finalized, the judge then concluded the trial day and thanked the witness for giving his testimony to the court. The witness responded that he was thankful for the opportunity to give his testimony and that being able to appear on behalf of all those who did not make it was a wish that now had come to fruition.

Next report

In our next report, we will provide summaries of the hearings with witnesses 18 and 19 which were held on 15 and 18 February.

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