Report 29: Complementary statement of facts by plaintiff counsel Kenneth Lewis, complementary hearing with the defendant and complementary statement of facts by the defense

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 complementary statement of facts by the prosecution and a complementary hearing with plaintiff 1, which were held on 24 February. In this report we will provide summaries of the complementary statement of facts by plaintiff counsel Kenneth Lewis and the defense, and complementary hearings with the defendant by the plaintiff counsels and the defense, which were held on 8 and 9 March.  

Complementary statement of facts by plaintiff counsel Kenneth Lewis

Judge Zander started the court day by stating that the privately appointed plaintiff counsel Kenneth Lewis would hold a complementary statement of facts and a complementary hearing with the defendant. Kenneth Lewis had, at an earlier hearing, requested to present new evidence which he was now allowed to do.

The evidence that Kenneth Lewis presented focused on proving the authenticity of the fatwa/hokm that ayatollah Khomeini had allegedly issued prior to the mass executions and which the prosecution has argued was an order to start carrying out the executions. The defendant had earlier questioned the authenticity of the fatwa/hokm. Counsel Lewis also presented evidence that illustrated the internal effect on Iran the war with Iraq had at the time of the mass executions. The evidence was important, according to Lewis, because it showed, that during the time period when the defendant claimed to have been on parental leave, or on vacation, all able-bodied persons had been called to the front, or, in the case of civil servants, had been called back to their place of employment, which made the defendants claim improbable.

The existence of a fatwa/hokm

Regarding the evidence that illustrated the authenticity of ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa/hokm, the counsel presented written evidence such as letters and news articles, which contained statements from different high-level officials at the time. These statements supported the counsels claim that there had existed a fatwa/hokm that commanded the commencement of the executions. Lewis also presented video evidence and audio recordings.

First counsel Lewis presented a statement from the current leader of Iran, Khamenei. In this statement, Khamenei refers to ayatollah Khomeini’s plan and states that all those that contributed to the MEK were waging war against God and were thus so-called “mohareb”.

The counsel showed a message from a provincial judge, Abdol-Karim Mousavi Ardebili, addressed to the son of ayatollah Khomeini. In the message, the judge asked questions about how the fatwa/hokm was to be enforced. In his responding letter, Khomeini answered: “In all cases at all times, the punishment for prisoners who continue to support MEK is execution”. The letter further stated: “eradicate Islam’s enemies at once”. These two pieces of evidence illustrated, according to counsel Lewis, that not only did Khomeini stand by his order that everyone who continued to express support for the MEK should be executed, but that the order was intended to have an effect in prisons nationwide and not only in Evin or Gohardasht prison.

Counsel Lewis further showed copies of two letters from ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri to Khomeini, the first one dated 31 July 1988, where he pleads to Khomeini to, at the very least, make sure that any executions are exclusively decided on the basis of an unanimous decision by the presiding judges. In his second letter, dated 2 August 1988, Montazeri writes that he has been contacted by provincial judges, and that they had expressed concerns over how the fatwa/hokm was being carried out. Montazeri gave an example in the letter of how one prisoner had been executed despite denouncing the MEK and despite accepting to join in military combat against the MEK because he had answered in the negative when asked whether he was prepared to walk over minefields.  

Counsel Lewis showed another letter from Ayatollah Montazeri that was addressed to Nayyeri, Eshraghi, Raisi and Pourmohammadi who were members of the so-called death committee in Teheran. Montazeri expressed that he believed mass executions were not the right way forward to deal with dissenting opinions and ideologies. He further wrote that he believed that a person’s religious believes was not enough to declare him or her “mohareb” (a person that wages war against God).  

In a letter from a judge from Khuzestan to ayatollah Khomeini, it was stated that determining whether a prisoner still had allegiance to MEK was a matter of interpretation. He wrote that some prisoners had denounced MEK and said that they were prepared to say so in interviews on radio and television. However, when asked if they were prepared to fight against MEK some had hesitated and some had said no. These prisoners were executed for answering no, except for one who had managed to escape.

Lewis further showed the court a news article, dated 13 May 1990, where Mohammed Yazdi, who then was the chief of the judiciary, had stated that MEK could be declared as ”mohareb”, since it had been announced in imam Khomeini’s fatwa/hokm and that therefore there were no limitations to carrying out the executions. Lewis underlined that Yazdi here directly referred to Khomeini’s fatwa/hokm. He also showed a message by Ahmad Khatami, then the imam for the Friday prayer in Teheran, dated 21 July 2017, where he stated that those who had carried out Khomeini’s fatwa/hokm should be afforded medals and that it had been a righteous operation. Lewis again pointed to how Khatami too referred directly to Khomeini’s fatwa/hokm.

In a quote by the chief for the armed forces’ judiciary, Mohammed Niazi, dated 13 June 2020, he says that the reason that members of the MEK had been executed without due process was because a fatwa/hokm had been issued by the “vali-e faqih” (guardian Islamic jurist or, in this case, the supreme clerical leader) Khomeini, which meant that there was no need for trials to carrying out the executions.

Lewis further played the court a recording made in 2017 in which Iran’s former minister of intelligence, Ali Fallahian, confirms that the executions of the MEK were carried out by order of ayatollah Khomeini and that no trials were necessary to carry out the executions since the order had come from Khomeini.

Counsel Kenneth Lewis proceeded by showing the court a video interview, dated 24 June 2021, in which Ebrahim Raisi denies being a member of the death committee since his name was not stated in the fatwa/hokm. Counsel Lewis primarily showed this piece of evidence to prove the existence of a fatwa/hokm issued by Khomeini.

A letter from Massoud Rajavi, the then leader of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, to the then Secretary General of the United Nations, Perez de Cuellar. The letter was dated 25 August 1988 and was thus written while the mass-executions were ongoing. In the letter, Rajavi writes that representatives of the regime had recently made repeated public statements through which they spoke of the need to execute members of the MEK and that the executions should be carried out without trials. He further writes that, according to credible information, Khomeini had issued a hand-written fatwa a few weeks prior, through which he ordered the execution of political prisoners sympathizing with the MEK. This, Rajavi writes, had happened after a new wave of political arrests where tens of thousands had been detained.

Counsel Lewis then showed a copy of an interview with Mohammed Shahroudi, a member of the Expert Council, in Taslim News Agency, dated 8 August 2017. In the interview, he defends the ayatollah’s fatwa/hokm and the executions. Lewis points to the fact, that the newspaper had actually published a copy of the fatwa/hokm.

The scale of the executions

Lewis further played a radio interview from Voice of America on 26 August 2019 with the director of the Hayan institute for culture in Tehran, Mehdi Khazali.  In the interview, the director states that ayatollah Montazeri had claimed that 4 000 people had been executed, but that he had himself been informed by the assistant minister of the Intelligence ministry that the total number of executed MEK sympathizers was 20 000 people.

The role of the defendant

Counsel Kenneth Lewis then proceeded to present a copy of a letter sent to the chief of the Evin prison, Moslemin Haj Hossein Mortazavi, in which it was stated that the defendant was to be appointed assistant prosecutor at the prison. The letter was not dated, but referred to a document dated 11 September 1988. It was logical to presume, said Lewis, that this letter must have been sent after the dated document. The counsel pointed out that this brings to question the defendant’s claim that he had been working in Evin prison, and not Gohardasht prison, before and after the mass-executions took place. Lewis underlined that it was hard to understand why this letter had been sent, if the defendant was in fact employed at Evin prison at the time.

Counsel Lewis further presented a number of news articles from July 1988, around the time that MEK:s operation “Eternal Light” took place, which illustrated how various parts of society were mobilizing in defense of the country at the time. The articles described how universities had closed down and that a large number of people, including political and religious leaders, seminary students, factory workers and civil servants had left for the front. Lewis underlined that during the period in time that the defendant claims to have been on parental leave, or vacation, the entire country was mobilizing. While no witnesses had been called throughout the proceedings to testify to the facts, Lewis added that many who lived in Iran at this point in time had told him that civil servants who were on vacation had been called in to work due to the national mobilization.

Lewis then played a recorded telephone call between Naserian and another unknown individual, which Lewis believes must have taken place a few days after the defendant’s arrest. The call concerned the defendant’s journey to Sweden. The call reveals that the two persons in the call had advised the defendant not to travel to Sweden and that the defendant himself had suspected that he would be arrested. In the call, Naserian further says that the defendant had been a civil servant and the chief of his office.

Lewis explained that it has been questioned whether it is really Naserian who is speaking in the recording. An expert on digital forensics had therefore analyzed the recording by comparing it with other recordings of Naserian’s voice. The expert had concluded that there was reason to believe that it was the same individual in the different recordings but that it was not possible to say with 100 percent certainty.

Another recorded phone call was also presented as evidence before the court. This call was between Razini, who was the chief of the military’s judiciary during the mass-executions and another unknown individual. The call concerned what information the defendant had and could possibly be sharing with the Swedish intelligence services. When the counsel had finished his complementary statement of facts, he proceeded to commence the complementary hearing with the defendant.

Complementary hearing with the defendant

Counsel Lewis stated that he had during the complementary statement of facts presented a lot of evidence proving the authenticity of the fatwa/hokm. He asked the defendant whether it was still his opinion that the hokm/fatwa was a lie and that there had never existed an order to carry out any executions. The defendant responded that he did not consider that it had existed such a hokm/fatwa.

The defendant was then asked about the evidence presented that illustrated that it was improbable that he had been on parental leave during the time that the executions were conducted, considering the state of general mobilization in Iran at the time. The defendant claimed that during this period, his child had been born and that he had not been allowed by his wife to go to the front and for this he apologized to the Iranian people. He had not returned to his place of employment either, which he claimed was Evin prison. He further added that his superior had been aware of his situation and had afforded him the right to stay at home with his wife. He had gone on leave two months before his child was born and had gone back to work two months after.

The defendant was then asked about the letter that had been sent to the prison director Mortazavi, in which Mortazavi asks for the defendant to be appointed as “dadyar” at Evin prison. Lewis asked why this letter had been sent if the defendant already worked in Evin prison. The defendant responded that the letter was forged.

He was then asked about the audio recordings that had been played during the complementary statement of facts and whether he thought that one of the voices on those recordings had been Naserian. He responded that the voice was like that of Naserian but that he could not be sure, and that he suspected that the recording could also be forged. He suspected that his enemies could have edited the recording together bit by bit. However, the defendant still believed what was being said on the recording supported his case.

The defendant was then asked about the contacts in his cellphone. He was asked if he could explain why he had 20 people amongst his contacts who had worked at Gohardasht prison if he had only been there on a few occasions. He responded that he had worked for 43 years and had a cellphone since 1373 and that there were at least 500 contacts in his phone. As he had worked in Evin prison he had met people working in other prisons. They used to meet and then they exchanged numbers and they had a close cooperation.

He was also asked about the fact that he had invited different high-level individuals to a recurrent Ramadan dinner. He responded that he regularly used to arrange this feast and that all colleagues were invited, from the lowest to the highest ranking. The plaintiff counsel then asked the defendant about different high-ranking officials that had been invited to this dinner. The defendant responded that these persons had been invited but that he did not know them, and they had declined.  

The last question that counsel Lewis asked was how the defendant viewed the fact that so many had given testimony against him and that they said that they had seen him in Gohardasht prison at the time of the mass executions. The defendant responded that they were all liars and Albanians and that nothing but lies should be expected from them.

Once plaintiff counsel Kenneth Lewis had finalized his hearing with the defendant, the other plaintiff counsels continued the complementary hearing with the defendant.

Plaintiff counsel Ghita Hadding asked the defendant when he stopped working within the prison system, upon which the defendant responded that he worked there as a full-time employee until late 1369 or early 1370 (1991) but that he stayed on as a part-time employee until 1373.

Plaintiff counsel Bengt Hesselberg’s questions primarily focused on several names that had been found amongst the contacts in the defendant’s phone. Among the contacts were people such as Hassan Rouhani, who was the president of Iran between 2013-2021, and who had sent a text message to the defendant congratulating him on the new year. The defendant explained that it is common in Iranian culture for the president to send new year-messages to the Iranian people. When asked by plaintiff counsel Hesselberg about whether that meant that 85 million Iranians had received the same text message, the defendant responded that at least 2-5 million individuals must have received a text.

Complementary statement of facts by the defense

The hearing was held on 9 March and the court day was initiated by Judge Zander, who welcomed everyone back and stated that the defense had requested a complementary statement of facts. He then gave the floor to the defense.

The defense’s complementary statement of facts focused on alleged discrepancies between public accounts by plaintiffs and witnesses prior to the defendant’s arrests and their testimonies after the arrest of the defendant. The defense also intended to illustrate discrepancies between plaintiff’s and other relative’s accounts about when and where their family members had been executed and the date and place of those executions in lists containing such details about those executed in Gohardasht prison in 1988.

The defense attorney Thomas Söderqvist referred to ten specific cases, concerning ten individuals which were allegedly executed during the mass executions. By studying and comparing different lists and sources, the defense claimed, it was possible, to identify discrepancies. In some lists, or alternative sources presented by the defense, an alleged executed person were either not mentioned, or it was stated that this person had been executed in Evin prison instead of Gohardasht prison. In some instances, the method for how they had been executed differed. Furthermore, dates could also be wrong and outside the prosecutor’s statement of the criminal act as charged. One type of source that were compared by the defense were different lists containing names and details of executed individuals, for example lists produced for the Iran Tribunal and another list that was stated in a publication that seems to have been produced by the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Five books, a video interview, documents from Amnesty International and a death certificate was among the evidence that the defense referred to. The defense pointed to the fact that they contained discrepancies regarding the fate of ten of the individuals that the prosecution claimed had been executed in Gohardasht prison during the 1988 mass-executions. The defense also stated that the discrepancies noted during this complementary statement of facts were just a mere sample of what the defense had been able to find. A comparison was also made between a list of executed persons that the prosecution had presented, and a list of executed persons compiled by the United Nations that had been brought forth by the defense. The defense’s conclusion was that most names on the prosecution’s list was not mentioned on the UN-list, or the dates were wrong.

The defense then turned to scrutinize publications and statements made by different parties during the trial. The defense claimed that there were discrepancies between testimonies that the concerned individuals had given in previous public accounts and their testimonies in court. The main discrepancy, claimed the defense, was that the defendant was not mentioned in the testimonies of plaintiffs and witnesses prior to his arrest. The same was true, according to the defense, for books that had been published by several plaintiffs and witnesses. The defense had highlighted several passages in these books, to illustrate that despite detailed accounts of events and of those involved in the events, the defendant or the name “Abbasi” had not been mentioned.

The defense further claimed that the fact that one witness had claimed to at one point have seen the defendant stand in a window overlooking the prison yard was not possible, since that window was covered with metal bars. It was also claimed by the defense that there had been differing opinions regarding where the so-called death committee had been situated at Gohardasht prison. A sketch made by a witness and satellite images were presented by the defense to illustrate discrepancies in testimonies regarding positions of different locations in the prison.    

The defense also asked the defendant one question regarding the formulation in an invitation he had sent by text message. The defendant responded that he had formulated that message in a manner that made it obvious that he had worked in Evin prison. The defense then concluded their complementary statement of facts.

The judge, before ending the trial day, gave a decision regarding a request by plaintiff counsel Kenneth Lewis. The request regarded whether Lewis was allowed to ask Witness 23, due to give his testimony in court on 10 March, questions regarding the crime of genocide. Judge Zander explained that the court had decided that any response from Witness 23 regarding the crime of genocide would not be considered as evidence by the court, as the indictment did not include charges on genocide.

The judge then concluded the court day.

Next report

In our next report, we will provide summaries of the complementary hearing with Witness 16 and the hearings with Witness 23 and 24, which were held on 9, 10 and 15 March. 

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