Report 37: Witness Hearings pt. 12

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 the hearing with witness 29, which was held on 7 April.  In this report, we have summarized the hearing with Witness 30 which was held on 20 April.

Witness 29

The trial day started a little later than usual due to the witness not being present at the Dutch Court from where he would be heard through conference equipment. When the witness finally arrived, judge Zander started the court day by welcoming the witness and thanking the Dutch Court for their assistance. He proceeded to explain that the hearing had been called on behalf of the prosecution and that it would concern the witness’ experiences and observations during his incarceration in Gohardasht prison during 1988-1989, and his incarceration in Evin prison after the period of the mass executions. The floor was then handed to the prosecution.

Prosecutor Martina Winslow started by clarifying that she would be asking questions regarding the summer of 1367 (1988) and that if she had understood it correctly, the witness had been incarcerated in Gohardasht prison during that time. The witness confirmed that that was correct and that he had been arrested in the month of Aban 1364 (1985) and that he had been in Gohardasht prison during the time of the mass executions in 1367 (1988). He had initially not received any information regarding the reason for his arrest but had later been told that he had been arrested because he had been a member of the political organization Fadaian. A few months after his arrest, the witness was brought to Evin prison where he was questioned and then left in solitary confinement for 4-5 months. During his time in Evin prison, the witness had been brought before a court and had received a 2-year prison verdict. When Winslow asked the witness if he knew what he had been convicted of, he answered that amongst other things, he had been convicted for “trying to overthrow the Islamic regime”. Winslow then asked him how long he had stayed at Evin prison. The witness responded that he had been there for around a year and a half until he was transferred from Evin prison to Gohardasht prison, where he had stayed for 1-2 months, up until the end of 1366 (1987), when he was transferred back to Evin under the pretense that he would be released. The witness was, however, never released but was instead left in solitary confinement until he was brought before Raisi. Raisi, the witness explained, was a substitute for the prosecutor’s office in the prison and had asked him if he would agree to an interview to which the witness had answered that he would not. He had then stayed at Evin prison until the spring of 1367 (1988) when he was transferred back to Gohardasht together with all “Mellikesh”-prisoners (i.e., prisoners who had not been released despite their prison time being served). During this transfer they had also been separated from the MEK-prisoners, the witness added.

When he had arrived at Gohardasht the second time, the witness and his fellow prisoners had been ordered to take off their clothes down to their underwear, and to then walk through a “human tunnel” consisting of guards lined up on either side, beating them as they walked through.

The witness then mentioned that a committee had arrived at Gohardasht during the months of Khordad or Tir. Their arrival had been the result of the “gas incident” which had also taken place around the same months. The “gas incident”, the witness explained, referred to the time when 13-14 prisoners, including himself, had been brought to a room where the air vents had been turned off upon which the prisoners began coughing until they were suffocating. They had banged with their fists on the doors, but the doors did not open. Some had then fainted while others tried their best to stay alive. After this, the committee arrived to question Naserian about the incident in front of everyone. Naserian had explained that it was in fact not gas that had been used but pepper.

When asked by the prosecutor about Naserian’s position in prison, the witness responded that he had been the prison director. The witness then added that he had also seen Naserian once before, during the “gas incident”, when he had later opened the doors to the room in order to see the prisoners’ reaction.

The witness further recounted the events of the month of Mordad 1367 (1988). During that month, the television in their section had been removed. A few days later, he had heard shots from inside the prison and it had become clear to him that prisoners were being executed. A while after, but before 9 Shahrivar, some prisoners who had been members of different political organizations had been taken away and he then proceeded to give their names to the court. He did not know at the time what had happened to them, but they did not come back, and he had later learned that they had been executed.

During the night of 9 Shahrivar, the witness continued, he was awakened by his friend who told him that the news of the executions had been correct. They then discussed the news and, by talking to other prisoners through morse code, concluded that a “death committee” had arrived and that it was taking prisoners to the “amphitheater” to be hanged. That morning, the doors opened, and the prisoners were ordered to put their blindfolds on and step outside. When they had arrived to wherever they had been taken, the prisoners were lined up and introduced one by one to a person sitting on top of a desk asking them questions about their views on Islam. The witness explained that his blindfold had rolled up, and that he could see the face of the person asking questions when observing him from a distance, but that he could only see his legs dangling from the table when he was brought closer to him. The witness did not know who the person was. He did, however, recognize him from moments before when they had been taken away.

After the questioning, they were divided into groups and taken to a cell where they stayed all night. The day after, on 10 Shahrivar, they were beaten by Naserian and a group of guards. Naserian had pushed the witness so that he had fallen to the floor and when he had done so, the witness’s blindfold had moved from where it had been placed. He had then felt the pressure of a shoe on his neck, the pressure of someone stepping on him. He looked up, and when he did, he saw the same person he had seen asking questions on 9 Shahrivar. He then saw the same person move on to another prisoner whom he started to kick and hit. He had still not known who that person was until after the beating when they had been taken away and he had asked his friends the name of the person who had been asking questions. “His name is Abbasi,” they had answered, “Hamid Abbasi”. They had told him that he was a “dadyar” and that he worked for Naserian.

The following day, the prisoners were once again lined up and taken away. This time the prisoners were convinced they were being taken to the “amphitheater” to be executed and so they said their goodbyes to each other through morse code and by tapping on each other’s shoulders. “I was thinking of my family, of all the other people”, the witness recalled. However, they were not brought to the “amphitheater” but to a room where they were asked if they conducted their prayers. When the witness had been called into the room, he had answered that he did not. When asked why, he answered that he simply did not know how. He was then whipped as a result. Afterwards, he was asked again about his prayers, and he was informed that conducting his prayers would lead to “paradise” but to not do so would lead to “whips and cable strikes”. The witness had given the same answer as before and when asked if he would agree to perform his prayers if they taught him how, he answered that he would not, and so he was whipped again.

The prosecutor then questioned how the witness could be certain that these events had taken place on 9 and 10 Shahrivar and proceeded to point to discrepancies in his testimony in relation to the initial statements he had made to the police. The prosecutor also asked how the witness could be sure that the person whom he later learned to be Abbasi had participated in the beatings of the prisoners, to which the witness answered that everyone had participated but that he himself, admittedly, had mostly heard Naserian.

The witness then explained that he had seen Abbasi again, without a blindfold, when they had been allowed to receive phone calls from their families. This was some time after the above-mentioned incidents. Abbasi had interrupted some of the prisoners’ phone calls when he had heard what the prisoners had been talking about. Once again, the prosecution questioned some details given by the witness as they did not match those that he had initially given to the police. After explaining the discrepancies to the prosecution, the witness added that he had also met Abbasi once more with Naserian but explained that Naserian had been more prominent. He had also seen him once when they had been allowed to receive visitors again but only for a brief second. He was then released from Gohardasht in 1367 (1989).

The witness was then asked about the circumstances of when he had learned that the defendant had been arrested. The witness described that he had heard about the defendant through both the media and his friends and that he had also seen a picture of him with a text that described the defendant in the picture to be the same person as “Abbasi”. He himself had not recognized him, he told the court. But there were many of those who executed prisoners during that time that he would not be able to recognize, for instance Lashkari, the witness explained. The only one who he could with certainty point out, even after all these years, would be Naserian, he admitted.

The floor was then turned over to plaintiff counsels Ghita Hadding and Bengt Hesselberg who proceeded to name some prisoners to the witness and to ask him if he knew who they were, if they had been at Gohardasht prison and if he knew what had happened to them. Some names the witness recognized, and some names he did not.

The witness was then questioned by defense attorney Daniel Marcus who also asked the witness to explain some further alleged discrepancies that had appeared during his testimony to the court. He then asked the witness if he had participated in any documentaries or interviews or written any reports about his experiences in prison. Only a little, the witness responded but he did not know if any of it had been published. Marcus then asked him if he had ever, in any of those circumstances, mentioned Abbasi. “No,” the witness responded. He had only mentioned Naserian and Raisi. Lastly, he was asked by the defense to describe Abbasi’s and Naserian’s attire.

Judge Zander then thanked the witness for giving his testimony and, once again, thanked the Dutch court for their help, before ending the trial day.

Next report

In our next report, we will provide summaries of the complementary statements of facts from the prosecution and the complementary hearing with the defendant.

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