Report 36: Witness Hearings pt. 11

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 hearings with expert witnesses 6, 7, 8 and 9, which were held on 5 and 6 April. In this report, we have summarized the hearing with Witness 29 which was held on 7 April.

Witness 29

Judge Zander started the trial day by welcoming the witness to the court. He then informed the witness that the hearing had been called on behalf of the prosecution and that it concerned the witness’s experiences and observations from his incarceration in Gohardasht prison during 1988-1989. Before giving the floor to the prosecution, judge Zander emphasized the importance of only providing information which the witness himself had observed or remembered from his own time spent in Gohardasht.

The prosecutor, Martina Winslow, then started the hearing by asking the witness to describe the circumstances of his arrest. The witness responded that he had been arrested in 1360 (1981/1982) for being part of “Rah-e Kargar”, an organization for revolutionary workers in Iran. In the year 1361 (1982/1983) the witness was granted leave from prison, upon which he escaped. In 1362 (1983/1984), he was arrested again and was later brought to Evin prison to section 209 where he, by being handcuffed to the door, had been forced to stand up for a duration of eleven days. He had then been kept in solitary confinement for seven months. The witness added that his brother had also been arrested but that he had been executed while the witness was incarcerated. The witness was incarcerated in Evin prison between 1362 (1983/1984) up until the end of the year 1366 (1987), upon which he was transferred to Gohardasht prison.

The witness was then asked to describe his observations from the month of Mordad 1367. On 5 Mordad, the witness was told through morse code by other prisoners that a committee had arrived at the prison. A few days later, a speech was emitted through the prison’s speakers inciting against the MEK, the television in the section was removed by a person in civilian clothes, and the prisoners were no longer allowed to read newspapers or receive visitors. The witness and his fellow prisoners kept receiving messages through morse code but could not trust the information in the messages. In the beginning of the month of Shahrivar, a fellow prisoner felt ill, and the other prisoners requested that he be sent to the medical unit. The person with the civilian clothes who had removed the television appeared again and took the prisoner with him. Two days later, the prisoners were told through morse code by other prisoners that the prisoner had been executed.

A few days later, the witness and his fellow prisoners were ordered to put on their blindfolds and leave their cells. Lashkari and Naserian interrogated them about whether they were Muslims and whether they conducted their prayers. Some of the prisoners were then brought back to their section of the prison and the others, including the witness, were brought downstairs to a corridor where they were ordered to sit down. Sitting in this corridor, the witness heard guards say, “left side” and “right side” as an instruction for where to place the prisoners. Naserian came to call out some names and later the witness heard his own name being called. The witness was brought to what he referred to as “the room of death”. He was ordered to remove his blindfold, which he did, upon which he saw Nayyeri and Eshraghi. Nayyeri then asked him if he was Muslim, to which the witness answered that he had never been Muslim. Then they asked about his parents and the witness admitted that they were Muslim, upon which the witness was asked why he was not. He explained it to them and included a story about a mullah in the area in which he had lived who danced and drank, which upset them. Nayyeri got so angry that he ordered him to be taken away and to be punished for lying. He was then taken back to the same corridor before being taken to a room in which he was whipped. When he had been beaten so badly that he could no longer stand on his feet, he was dragged back to the end of the corridor. At the end of the corridor, there was a large hall which the witness later had learned had been the “amphitheater”. He was ordered to step inside and when he did, the guard who had escorted him there appeared to be surprised and asked aloud “why is no one here, why is the light turned off?”. The guard then left him alone before telling him he would soon be back. As soon as he could hear the guard’s steps fade away, he lifted his head up to be able to see some of the hall. It was dark, the witness described, but there were some sources of light. He could see some slippers and clothes scattered in the hall. Unconsciously, he had raised his head even more and that is when he had seen a row of gallows. Ropes, maybe six of them, hanging down. Suddenly he was kicked by the guard who had come back and asked him what he was looking at. The witness had responded that the darkness prevented him from seeing anything. He was then taken out of the “amphitheater”.

That very same night, the witness heard people talking to each other as well as the sound of vehicles. So, he made it to the window which he was able to see through since the iron bars covering it had been manipulated. Outside, he saw the rear of a truck and people clothed in white spraying poison in the area. He then saw what he believed were lumps wrapped in sheets or blankets that were thrown into the trucks.

The following morning, the witness was brough back to “the room of death” but was told to sit and wait on a chair that had been placed outside of the door. The witness recalled seeing about ten people passing him into the room. Eshraghi had been the last of the “death committee” to step into the room and before he had done that, he had approached the witness and told him to just “say that you are Muslim, and everything will sort itself out”. The witness had responded that he was not Muslim and could therefore not say that he was. “Either Muslim or nothing. Try to understand.” Eshraghi had responded. This, the witness recalled, had made him understand that the situation was serious. He was then called inside himself and just like last time, he removed his blindfold and saw Nayyeri and Eshraghi. He also saw someone else that he did not immediately recognize, but whom he had later recognized by his voice when seeing him on TV and then understood had been Pourmohammadi. Nayyeri started asking him questions about religion, such as what the pillars of Islam were and who the honored prophet was. He could see Nayyeri getting angry by his answers, and he ordered for the witness to be removed. Eshraghi, however, asked Nayyeri to wait and turned to the witness and asked him what he would do if he were to be released. “I will live my life” the witness had answered. He would live his life and obey the rules and norms of society as well as the laws. Eshraghi then explained to Nayyeri that the witness could indeed live as a Muslim, upon which Nayyeri, still angry, ordered the witness to be taken away and made sure he became Muslim.

The witness was brought to another section where he, hours later, was physically assaulted. After the assault, the witness and the other prisoners were taken to another section where a young Mullah, accompanied by the person who wore civilian clothes, appeared. The person in civilian clothing explained that they had arrived to teach them how to pray. If they did not learn how to pray, they would be executed, he had threatened. The prisoners had responded that they needed some time and so the Mullah and the civilian-clothed-person came back the other day. On the third day, the Mullah arrived again (the witness was unsure of whether the other person was with him as well), and they were transferred to another section of the prison where there were already around 70 – 80 prisoners. Every day, for about three days, the witness explained, Naserian and the person in civilian clothes had threatened them to pray.

Around two weeks later, the witness had been called to a room and on the way there he had asked the guard where he was taking him. “To Abbasi,” the guard had responded. When they stepped into the room, he was asked to remove his blindfold and in front of him he saw the same person in civilian clothes, who he had met several times before, sitting behind a desk. This person was named Abbasi, he had then understood. The witness was then asked questions about his personal information and was informed that he was to be transferred to Evin prison.

The prosecutor asked the witness to describe who Lashkari and Naserian were. The witness responded that he did not know the structure of the prison and the role of each person but that he believed Naserian was tasked with picking up and dropping people off, while Lashkari seemed to follow Naserian’s orders.

The witness suddenly remembered a moment which he had forgotten to tell the court about, which occurred at some point after he had been assaulted and brought back to a cell to wait. He had overheard some guards speaking to each other about sharia laws. One of them had asked the other: “These girls that we take down from the noose, they are bruised, so it seems that they have been suffocated. According to Islamic rules, they should be married before they are executed. What do you think, is this correct?”. The guards had then continued to discuss these religious questions.

The prosecutor then asked the witness to clarify when he had seen Abbasi, who he had said was the same person as the “person in civilian clothes”. The witness explained that he had seen him at least four times: during the physical assault, when the television was taken away, when the fellow prisoner had been taken to the medical unit and when they had arrived in group to his ward. Although, the witness explained, they had arrived in group to the ward on several occasions, so he had actually seen Abbasi more than four times. When the prosecutor asked the witness about Abbasi’s appearance, the witness explained that what stood out most to him was Abbasi’s smile. He was then asked to look at the accused who was sitting to the left of him in the court room, and whom he had not yet turned to look at. Before turning to look at him, the witness asked the court if they could ask the accused to smile but judge Zander told him he could not do so. The witness then turned to look at the accused and confirmed that he was the same person who he had referred to as “Abbasi” and the “person in civilian clothes”. The witness was then asked questions about the interview he had done for a report by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation in 2009. He was specifically asked about some dates which did not line up with certain dates he had given in his testimony to the court. The witness explained that after he had been heard by the police, he had noted, for instance by googling, that some of the dates that he had mentioned were not correct. He had asked the police to go through the protocol of the hearing but had received a negative answer. He never received a chance to correct the information he had given.  The witness emphasized that everything he had said in court was what he wanted to be the basis for his testimony. Judge Zander then asked the witness if he meant that he had been googling the dates for certain events, upon which the witness said that he had. He had felt the need to give the court correct information and so he had felt he needed to double-check his information. Zander then interrupted him and informed him of the importance of only testifying about what he himself remembered and had been through, which he had already informed him of at the beginning of the hearing.

The floor was then given to the plaintiffs’ counsel Kenneth Lewis, Göran Hjalmarsson, Bengt Hesselberg and Ghita Hadding, who began by questioning the witness on some of the names of fellow prisoners that he had mentioned during the hearing and if he knew what had happened to them. Hjalmarsson asked about the observations that the witness had made from the window of his prison cell. Amongst other things, Hjalmarsson asked about the distance of the witness from the window and about how dark or light it had been. Hjalmarsson further asked the witness if he knew anything about Abbasi’s professional relationship with Naserian, upon which the witness responded that during the time he had been incarcerated, he had seen that Naserian was the one giving orders and that Lashkari and Abbasi followed those orders. The witness was also asked some follow-up questions by Lewis, who asked the witness to elaborate on what exactly the guards had said to each other when talking about the sharia laws and the suffocated women. Lewis also asked the witness to elaborate on what he had seen in the “amphitheater”.

The hearing was then turned over to the defense. Defense attorney Thomas Söderqvist focused most of the hearing on alleged discrepancies in the witness’ statements in court and his initial statements to the police. Söderqvist also asked the witness if he had been following the ongoing trial online, to which the witness responded that he had not had the opportunity to follow all of it but that he had followed some of the hearings in order to understand what kind of questions would be asked. The defense then questioned the witness about the way he had described Abbasi’s appearance, and just like the prosecution, asked him about the interview that he had done for the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation and the statements he had made there.

After the defense finished their questioning, the prosecution asked some complementary questions, and the witness was then thanked for participating by Judge Zander before he ended the trial day.

Next report

In our next report, we will provide a summary of the hearing with witness 30.

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