Report 34: Witness Hearings pt. 10

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 expert witnesses 3, 4 and 5, which were held on 23 and 24 March. In this report, we have summarized the hearings with witnesses 27 and 28, which were held on 29 and 31 March.  

Witness 27

Judge Zander started the court hearing by welcoming the witness to the court. The hearing had been called on by the prosecution and concerned the witness’ experiences and observations from his incarceration in Gohardasht prison during 1986-1989.

Prosecutor Krisitna Lindhoff Carleson asked the witness why, when and where he had been incarcerated. The witness responded that he had been arrested in the month of Aban 1360 (1981), accused of being a supporter of a Marxist organization. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison. The trial was a sham, according to the witness, and he was forced to write his will. He was transferred between several prisons and arrived at Gohardasht prison in the summer of 1365 (1986).

The prosecutor then went on asking about his observations during the months of Mordad and Shahrivar 1367 (1988). The witness explained that, during this period, the television had been removed, prisoners were no longer given newspapers and were not allowed to receive visitors or get some air in the prison yard. As a response for not being allowed to receive visitors, the prisoners had started a hunger strike. For this, the prisoners were assaulted by the guards.

Around mid-Mordad, the witness and his fellow prisoners heard noise from the prison yard. Looking out of a window, they saw approximately 60 prisoners in the prison yard. The witness remembered that the prisoners were wearing slippers. The witness did not understand what was going on, but the next day he observed a pile of slippers laying in an area in proximity to where he had seen the prisoners. In the end of Mordad, the witness and his fellow prisoners received information by morse code from other prisoners that approximately 200 prisoners had been executed.

On the 5 of Shahrivar, the witness and another prisoner were escorted to the so called “death-committee”. The witness was taken to a corridor and made to wait. Different persons came and went in the corridor. Some of the persons there were fellow prisoners who the witness knew and could identify. He could see them, since he had removed some of the fabric in the blindfold that he was forced to wear. The witness had brought the very same blindfold with him to the courtroom in Stockholm and was later allowed to show it to the court.

After waiting in the corridor, the witness was brought before the so-called “death committee”. Several people were inside the room where the committee was presiding, among them Naserian, Nayyeri and Lashkari. The witness was asked different questions and asked to sign a piece of paper on which it was stated that he recognized Islam, condemned his affiliation with the organization that he had been part of and would participate in a public interview. He refused to sign the paper, upon which Lashkari asked him if he did his prayers and if he had done a pilgrimage, which the witness responded negatively to. A person who entered the room stated that the witness should do his prayers and that he was to be escorted out. It was also stated that the witness should be hanged if he refused. The witness was taken out of the room. Naserian handed him over to Abbasi who in turn handed him over to a guard who escorted him to where he was to do his prayers. The witness added that Naserian had explicitly told Abbasi not to take the witness to the wrong place, as he had done with 37 other prisoners who had been executed by mistake.

After being handed over to the guard by Abbasi, the witness and his fellow prisoners had half of their mustaches shaved by the guards. They were then taken to another sections, where other prisoners were being held. The prisoners informed them that executions were taking place. They told the witness that they had seen trucks and bodies and how the bodies had been sprayed with disinfectants.  Later that night, the prisoners were taken out of the section into the main corridor where there was a bed. The witness and his fellow prisoners were forced to lay over the bed and were then whipped.

The witness further recounted how he had at one point seen two trucks, out of which one had been loaded with bodies. On the 11 Shahrivar, the witness was taken before the so-called “death committee” again. There, Nayyeri had opened a file and stated that the witness should have been executed but that he had been lucky. The witness was later escorted out of the room.

The witness was further asked about the prison leadership. He described that the defendant had been a guard, that that he had been an assistant to Naserian and a “dadyar” since 1366. The witness had met the defendant on multiple occasions due to his position as prisoner in charge of his section. As such, the witness was the contact point between the prisoners and the prison leadership. He told the court that on one occasion in the month of Azar 1365 (1986), Abbasi, together with others prison officials, had come to the section and assaulted the prisoners. In the month of Dey 1365 (1986), the witness had met the defendant again. The witness mother had died, and thus his family had applied for him to be allowed a leave. He had been taken to a room where Naserian and Abbasi were. He was informed that his mother had died and was presented with a document that they claimed was an application for leave, which they wanted him to sign. However, that was not the case. Instead, the document stated that he denounced his organization, was faithful to Islam and would commit to conducting a public interview. The witness refused to sign the document, which angered Abbasi. He assaulted the witness and said that he would not have been granted leave even if he had signed the document. The witness further recounted how, on another occasion, he had seen the defendant form a “human tunnel” together with some guards, through which the prisoners were forced to pass through while being assaulted.

The witness was asked by the prosecutor to look at the defendant and tell the court whether this was the same person who he had met during his incarceration. The witness responded that he was indeed the same person, with one hundred percent certainty, only a bit older.

The hearing with the witness was then handed over to the plaintiff counsels. The privately appointed plaintiff counsel Kenneth Lewis stated that the witness had earlier wanted to show a blindfold that he claimed that he had used during his incarceration. The blindfold was showed to the court and counsel Lewis asked the parties to the proceeding to pay attention to the fact that some of the fabric in the blindfold had been removed to make it easier to see through it.

Counsel Bengt Hesselberg asked the witness how many times he had met the defendant in Gohardasht prison, upon which the witness responded that he had met him about 40 times.

When the plaintiff counsels had finished their questioning of the witness, defense counsel Daniel Marcus asked the witness if it was correct that the witness had claimed that the defendant had been an ordinary guard in 1365, which the witness said was incorrect. The witness said that the defendant had been in charge of the guards during that period. The defense pointed to the fact that the witness had said during his hearing with the Swedish Police that Abbasi was an ordinary guard during that time period, upon which the witness responded that he remembered this and that he had also stated that the defendant had been in charge of the guards.

The witness was further asked about his encounter with the so-called “death-committee”. He described where people had been situated in the room and if they were seated or standing. The defense claimed that the witness had described these aspects differently during his hearing with the police. The defense read from the police transcript, upon which the witness responded that the description was incorrect.

The defense further stated that the witness had described events from his incarceration in a book and in television interviews and asked the witness whether he had ever mentioned the defendant during any of these occasions, upon which the witness responded that he had not.

When the defense finished their questioning of the witness, the judge thanked the witness for his testimony and ended the court day.

Witness 28

The trial day started a little later than scheduled due to some technical difficulties with the video conference equipment through which the witness, who resides outside of Sweden, would be heard. Judge Zander explained that the witness had been called to testify about observations he had made while being incarcerated in Evin and Gohardasht prison, before handing over the floor to the prosecution for the hearing to begin.

Prosecutor Martina Winslow initiated the hearing by asking the witness to briefly explain the circumstances of his arrest and which prisons he then came to spend time in. The witness responded that he had been arrested around the month of Aban or Azar 1361 (1982) along with his wife – who at the time had been 8 months pregnant – while they had been trying to leave the country. He was never informed of the reason for his arrest but explained that he at the time had been a member of the organization leftist party Peykar. The party had been dissolved 6-7 months prior to his arrest, but they had, according to the witness, continued with their political activity. Following the arrest, the witness was brought to Evin prison, before being transferred to Ghezel Hezar prison in the summer of 1362 (1983). He was then transferred back to Evin prison towards the end of 1363 (1984) or the very beginning of 1364 (1985), until being transferred to Gohardasht prison in 1366 (1987). He did not receive a verdict until 14 months after his arrest. The verdict had initially been a sentence of execution, he explained, but had later been changed to prison-time. When asked by the prosecution if he ever got the reason for this verdict, he replied that he had been sentenced to 12 years in prison for being a supporter of Peykar and thus “waging war against the Islamic regime”.

During his first stay at Evin prison, the witness’ wife had given birth to their son on 25 Esfand 1361 (1983). Around the spring of 1362 (1983), when his son had been around 4-5 months old, he was called to section 209 to meet his wife and their son. He was brought there blindfolded but pointed out that the prisoners at the time, including himself, had manipulated these blindfolds so that one could see through them. That is where he first met the young man who presented himself as Hamid Abbasi, a “dadyar” in the prison. After having met with his wife, the witness forgot to put the blindfold back on, and thus saw the young man when he came back to get him. The witness explained that he also had an issue with some money that he had had on him when he was arrested, which he brought up with Abbasi, who told him to write a letter and send it to the “dadyari” office. He was later called to the ”dadyari” where he, once again, met with Abbasi. This time without wearing a blindfold, which meant that he could see him clearly. A few months later he met Abbasi again in ”dadyari” to sign papers for the release of his son. The witness summarized that these were the three occasions on which he had met Abbasi, and that during these three times, he had seen him without a blindfold as well as had had a conversation with him.

Regarding his observations from Gohardasht prison, the witness remembered hearing the Friday prayer being broadcasted through the prison’s speakers on the 7th of Mordad, and how there was talk of executing the “monafeqin prisoners”. After this, rumors began spreading and things began changing. The prisoners stopped receiving the daily newspaper, they could no longer listen to the radio or watch TV and were no longer allowed to have visitors. Some time after this, the prisoners began sending messages to each other through morse code, telling each other of the executions and the existence of a “death committee”. They had been told that this “death committee” consisted of three people: Eshraghi, Nayyeri and Naserian, and that the only question they asked was whether one was Muslim or not. When asked by the prosecution if he himself had ever been brought before the death committee, the witness responded that he had not. The witness did, however, recall an incident where some of the prisoners had been brought out from their section under the pretext that they had visitors, which brought the other prisoners to believe that visiting days had been reinstated. However, these prisoners never came back. The witness then proceeded to naming the prisoners.

The day after, Lashkari had come to them asking whether they were the “Evin-prisoners” and had then ordered them to put on their blindfolds and to step outside. He was then brought to a room where he could see (through his manipulated blindfold) Lashkari and Abbasi. Lashkari asked him about his name, crime/accusation and if he would show up for an interview. The witness answered negatively to the last question. The prosecution then asked the witness about his knowledge of Lashkari’s role in the prison, to which the witness responded that he had always believed Lashkari to be prison director or commander-in-chief of the task force. However, the witness was clear about the fact that he did not in fact know what position Lashkari held but that he at least believed him to be the superior of Abbasi.

The witness further recounted how, during the following nights, he would hear the screams of his fellow prisoners being whipped. A few days later he was brought to a room with two intersecting corridors. One corridor consisted of wards and another in the other corridor was the room in which the “death committee” presided. The witness described how Abbasi stepped out of that room, went up to the witness and asked him the same questions that he had been asked before, as well as if he would perform his prayers. The witness, once again, answered negatively. After having talked with some of the other prisoners, the witness explained that he had finally realized that death was awaiting him and thus called on a guard to inform him he had changed his mind and that he was now willing to perform both the interview and the prayers. He was then sent back to wait, and during the hours that passed he saw Abbasi calling out prisoners’ names and leading them into the room of the “death committee”. Once the prisoners came out of the room, Abbasi would place them on either the left or the right side of the corridor. The witness had also seen three people walk out of the room of the death committee. The first was Naserian, the second Eshraghi and the third Nayyeri. Lashkari had later joined them, as well as Abbasi, who had come to talk to Lashkari. Regarding Naserian, the witness explained he had only seen him once before in Evin prison and had understood that he held a high position and that he was part of the prosecution authority.

The prosecution then asked the witness when he had been released, upon which the witness answered that he had been in Gohardasht prison until the middle of the month of Bahman 1367 (1989), when he was brought to Evin and then released in Esfand 1367 (1989). The witness was further asked to describe Abbasi’s appearance. The camera then zoomed in on the defendant as the witness was asked by the prosecution if the person that was sitting in the courtroom was the same person that he had referred to as “Abbasi”. The witness explained that this was in fact the same person, upon which the defendant began shaking his head in disapproval. The prosecution then finished their line of questioning, and the judge thanked the witness for his testimony before ending the trial day.

The next trial day continued with judge Zander giving the floor to the plaintiff counsel. The witness was asked if he recognized different names from his time in prison. Some people were known to the witness but some names he could not remember if he knew. He was then asked about the female prisoners in the prisons where he had been incarcerated and whether he knew how they had been treated. The witness answered that, as far as he knew, the women had not been taken to the “death committee”.

The questioning of the witness was then turned over to the defense, and in particular to defense attorney Thomas Söderqvist. Most of the hearing was focused on alleged discrepancies in the witness’ statements in court and his initial statements to the police. Much focus was placed on certain dates, upon which judge Zander had to step in and order the defense to move on since the witness had clearly already stated his uncertainty about the dates. The defense then questioned that the witness, in his hearing before the court, had said that he had only met with Abbasi on three occasions. During the hearing with the police, however, he had said that he had also met Abbasi in connection with examinations in a hospital. The witness denied this and explained that he had never met Abbasi during those examinations and that the three occasions previously mentioned were the only times where he had ever met Abbasi. The defense then moved on to question the witness about Lashkari’s role and how the witness seemed to have told the police that he believed that Lashkari was prison director and that he had a deputy prison director subordinate to him. The witness explained that if he had referred to Lashkari as prison director, then that was only based on his observations in the prison and in the way, Lashkari had been treated by others. He had never mentioned a deputy prison director.

Lastly, the defense questioned the witness about Abbasi’s appearance and the fact that the witness had stated in court that Abbasi had a stubble. In the police report, the witness seemed to have described Abbasi as “clean shaven” and a discussion erupted on whether this could have been due to the translation from Farsi to Swedish and whether it was actually the witness himself who had used this term or the translator or interrogator. The discussion was interrupted by the defendant, who informed the court that this could all be resolved by listening to the recording of the police hearing. He shot his arms forward, opening his hands in a gesture that seemed to signal that “it’s all here” and proceeded to look around the court for support. When judge Zander told him that they would not be listening back to the police hearing, the defendant put his arms across his chest as he bent his head forward to the judge several times, bowing in respect.

When the defense finished their line of questioning, the judge thanked the witness for providing his testimony and ended the trial day.

Next report

In our next report, we will provide summaries of the hearings with Expert witnesses 6, 7, 8 and 9.

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