Report 48: Introduction to the first block of recorded testimonies

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 introductory arguments by the defense counsels which were presented before the Court of Appeal on 23 and 25 January 2023.

In this report, we have summarized the introduction by the prosecution, plaintiff counsels and defense counsels to the first block of recorded testimonies held on 7 February 2023. During these presentations, the focus of the prosecution and the counsels is to direct the Court of Appeal to what the Court should pay particular attention to while watching the recordings of the testimonies given in the District Court.

Opening of the trial

Presiding judge Christer Lund initiated the day’s proceedings by welcoming everyone to the Court and informed that they were waiting for the defendant to arrive from the detention center. The defense counsels said that it would be acceptable to begin the session before the defendant arrived and that they would inform their client about what had been discussed. Presiding judge Lund accepted this position and allowed for the prosecution to begin with their statement.

The prosecution

The prosecution made a rather short and informative statement about what the Court of Appeal should consider when watching the oral statements that the plaintiffs had given to the District Court (and which formed part of Annex 2 to the indictment). 

The prosecution began by addressing the statements of Plaintiff 1. She explained that she would not go into the details of the hearings with the plaintiff, but stressed his detailed knowledge and descriptions which were also documented in his books. In Plaintiff 1’s books and hearing, the defendant and other plaintiffs were mentioned. The prosecution repeatedly referred to the relevance of the sketch of Gohardasht prison that also was included in Plaintiff 1’s book. The prosecution explained how the Court of Appeal should consider Gohardasht prison sketches when watching the oral statements to understand the plaintiff’s description of their experiences in the prison, such as when brought before the death committee. Furthermore, the prosecution showed a video of Plaintiff 2 from when he held a speech during an event to commemorate that 30 years had passed since the mass executions, where he mentioned the code name that the defendant used in Gohardasht prison. The prosecution also showed an English translation of the video clip where the code name is translated to the defendant’s real name. The prosecution also displayed the verdict given to Plaintiff 2 in Iran in the format of a handwritten note stating that he was sentenced to 15 years in prison, dated 10 January 1983.

The prosecution was then interrupted by the Presiding Judge Lund who stated that the Court had received information from the detention center and that it was uncertain if they would be able to bring the defendant to the Court as the Prison and Probation Service (the correctional service) was having issues with ensuring transportation. Defense counsel Bodström then asked for a break to contact his client.

After a 15 minute break, the proceeding resumed and presiding judge Lund stated that the Prison and Probation Service had informed the Court that they would be unable to bring the defendant to the Court, but that a video room and an interpreter would be supplied for the defendant who would join the proceedings from the detention center. The judge noted that the fact that the defendant could not be brought to court was substandard and apologized for the inconvenience.

The plaintiff counsels

Plaintiff counsel Hjalmarsson began his elaborations by addressing the relevance of Plaintiff 1’s personal experiences, which the plaintiff had also written about, and the value of his testimony for the identification of the defendant. Hjalmarsson then discussed the relevance of other plaintiffs’ testimonies, such as plaintiffs 10, 3, 4, 6, and 5. Hjalmarsson described some of their personal experiences, such as when they had met the defendant in Gohardasht prison when they were brought in front of the death committee and heard the defendant read out names, and that the District Court had considered their testimonies to be reliable. Hjalmarsson further underlined how the mental health of the plaintiffs was still affected by their experiences in Gohardasht prison.

Following the statement by plaintiff counsel Hjalmarsson; presiding judge Lund called for a lunch break and stated that the Court would have a solution for the defendant to participate in the proceedings from the detention center after the break.

The proceeding resumed at 1.00 PM, and the defendant was then participating from a video room at the detention center where he sat together with an interpreter.

Following this, plaintiff counsel Hesselberg began with his statement, and introduced two of his plaintiffs whose testimonies were relevant to discuss ahead of assessment by the Court of Appeal of their recorded statements; plaintiffs 6 and 17. He stressed how both plaintiffs had seen and met the defendant during their time in Gohardasht prison and described the ill treatment that they had suffered during their time there due to their association with MEK. He also noted that the District Court had considered the testimony given by both of them as reliable.

Plaintiff counsel Hadding addressed the testimony of Plaintiff 2. Hadding noted that the District Court had considered the testimonies of all the plaintiffs listed in Annex 2 as reliable and had considered that their statements was of high evidentiary value. Lawyer Hadding did however disagree with the District Court’s statement that Plaintiff 2’s identification of the defendant was weak. Hadding stated that Plaintiff 2 had testified about his experiences during two days of interrogations and Hadding believed that his identification of the defendant was to be considered reliable.

Lastly, plaintiff counsel Lewis discussed the testimony of Plaintiff 26 who is one of the plaintiffs who had been imprisoned the longest at Gohardasht prison. Lewis noted that Plaintiff 26 was interrogated by the defendant during his time at Gohardasht and that he had recognized the defendant despite wearing a blindfold. He had recognized the defendant by his voice and by his body shape which he could see through the blindfold. The plaintiff was taken to the death committee three times, and it was the defendant that brought him before the committee the last time. Plaintiff 26 had also been able to identify several of the other victims and witnesses from his time at Gohardasht prison, which plaintiff counsel Lewis believed to be important for the Court of Appeal to consider when assessing the recording of his testimony.

The defense counsels

The Court then gave the floor to the defense counsels. Defense counsel Bodström opened by stating how this was a unique murder case that revolved remarkably little about murder. Bodström noted that throughout the court session, there had been mentions of how the defendant had led the plaintiffs through corridors or had slapped them. However, very little was mentioned of any acts that would even be close to constituting the crime of murder. Bodström then described the difficulties in assessing whether someone is lying and displayed statistics on the matter. Bodström explained that the testimonies at hand came from people who were assumed to speak objectively about their experiences, but who are also mortal enemies of the defendant, or the Iranian government which the defendant had become the representative for in this case. Bodström then argued that this could cause people to exaggerate the involvement of the defendant and replace other individuals with the defendant in the scenarios that they had experienced at Gohardasht prison. 

Defense counsel Bodström further discussed the agenda of Plaintiff 1 and his influence over the evidence. He was critical towards the contact that had been between Plaintiff 1 and the other plaintiffs of the case and argued that there would not have been a case if it was not for Plaintiff 1. Bodström questioned the District Court’s conclusion that the testimony of Plaintiff 1 was reliable.

Bodström again stressed the defendant’s view of the death committee rather being a pardoning committee but stopped from going further in depth on the matter; stating how this will rather be a matter for the pleading and not the day’s session.

Defense counsel Rampe then continued by addressing the contradictions in Plaintiff 1’s statements and his written work. Rampe stated how the defense believed it to be remarkable that the defendant was given such a big role in the context of the trial, whilst the defendant is rarely mentioned in Plaintiff 1’s books. Rampe also explained how the defense had searched for the defendant’s name in the reports of the Iran Tribunal’s Truth and that defendant was never mentioned neither by his real name nor by the code name that was used in Gohardasht prison.

Further on, defense counsel Rampe addressed the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation’s report where the code name of the defendant is mentioned one time. The person who mentioned the code name of the defendant in the report had been contacted by the police and Rampe displayed a PM from the police where the person in question stated that they had not been able to identify the defendant or name someone that had met him.

The defense counsels finished their statement by again questioning the individual interests of Plaintiff 1 in the trial and his own agenda in the matter, as well as his involvement in the arrest of the defendant. They also questioned the power and influence attributed to the defendant in his position, which they argued was similar to the role of a prison guard and wished for the Court of Appeal to consider this when watching the recorded testimonies.

Clarifying questions

Before ending the day’s session, the Court allowed for complementary questions or clarifications. The prosecution then questioned the method of searching for the defendant’s name in the reports and asked about more information regarding how this had been executed. The prosecution also questioned the fact that the defendant had not described himself as a prison guard when heard previously in the case and asked the defense counsels whether the defendant had changed or retracted any of his previous statements. The defense counsels answered that the defendant had not changed his position but rather that the focus was on his practical function and position in Gohardasht prison. The defense counsel did however not answer the question regarding the method for searching for the defendant’s name in the discussed reports and the word was then handed over to plaintiff counsel Hjalmarsson.

Plaintiff counsel Hjalmarsson then addressed the defense counsels’ claims concerning Plaintiff 1’s private agenda in the proceedings and was critical towards the description of Plaintiff 1’s influence over the case and the indication of a possible collaboration between Plaintiff 1 and the plaintiff counsel himself to pursue a private agenda. The defense counsels answered that this was not what they had suggested but that they had rather questioned Plaintiff 1’s role in the proceedings.

After the exchange of questions and answers, the presiding judge closed the session for the day. Between this and the next court session on 22 March 2023, the Court will watch and assess recordings of the testimonies given by plaintiffs in the District Court.

Next report

In the next report, we will summarize the proceeding held on 22 March 2023 during which the prosecution, plaintiff counsels and defense counsels introduce the second block of recorded oral statements from District Court which Svea Court of Appeal will watch.