Report 51: Introduction to the fourth 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 introduction to the third block of recorded testimonies presented before the Court of Appeal on 16 May 2023.

In this report, we have summarized the introduction by the prosecution and defense counsels to the fourth block of recorded testimonies held on 29 May 2023. During these presentations, the focus of the prosecution and the counsels was to direct the Court of Appeal to what the Court should pay particular attention to while watching the recordings of the hearings with the defendant in the District Court.

Opening of the trial day

Presiding judge Christer Lund initiated the day’s proceedings by welcoming everyone to the Court. Judge Lund then stated that the prosecution had said that they possibly needed a few extra minutes but that the Court counted on being able to finish the day’s session at noon. Judge Lund stated that the Court had no questions or comments after watching the prior block of recorded testimonies and gave the floor to the Prosecution to begin with their statement.

The prosecution’s statement

The prosecution began by responding to questions regarding the list of executed persons in Gohardasht prison which had been submitted by an external person and which had been discussed during previous sessions in the Court of Appeal. The prosecution stated that it had reviewed material which explained the process of obtaining the information in the lists. The prosecutor explained that some of the information was partially sourced from Plaintiff 1 and the list provided by the MEK and that the columns on the far right regarding the date and method of execution, were based on   information from a list created by the MEK’s in 2001, which was excluded from a similar list made in 2016. The external person included this information in their own list to indicate that the information had been removed from MEK’s list. Judge Lund thanked the prosecution for the response.

Before proceeding to present the evidence, the prosecution explained that the first round of questioning of the defendant in the District Court by the prosecution took place over a span of six days in November and December 2021, where they utilized five PowerPoint presentations that then was shown during the day’s session. The prosecution explained that further questioning of the defendant had taken place  in March 2022, and again on 21 April 2022 after new evidence had been introduced. The prosecution had its presentation in the Court of Appeals follow the same structure as in the PowerPoint presentations displayed in the District Court. It explained that the first part of the first PowerPoint presentation focused on the defendant’s brother, who was killed in the Iran-Iraq War. The prosecution then displayed some pictures from the defendant’s cell phones phone images, including images taken during the defendant’s military service. The prosecution further demonstrated pictures taken inside Evin Prison, and material from the Iran Tribunal regarding Evin Prison. Additionally, images from Amnesty International regarding torture in Iranian prisons and material from the 43rd session of the UN General Assembly, were presented.

The prosecution moved on to display a picture of Seyyed Hossein Mortazavi Zanjani, who was the highest-ranking official at Gohardasht prison, along with information from the Iran Tribunal about the same person. The further prosecution explained how the defendant was asked during the questioning in the District Court about the content of the text messages found in his phone, which is included a message from ‘Hadad’ who, according to the defendant, was the former chief of the Dadyar unit where he served. The prosecution then also showed an excerpt from the Iran Tribunal about Davood Lashkari, who allegedly was the head of security at Gohardasht prison. The prosecution also displayed a satellite image of Gohardasht prison, which had been used as a reference during the questioning of the defendant in the District Court. The prosecution noted that the defendant had said during his questioning in the District Court that he had only visited Gohardasht prison on a few occasions. On one of those occasions, he had been inside a hall where prisoners were being interviewed in front of an audience and a person working at Gohardasht prison who used the same alias as him had also been present. Furthermore, the prosecution displayed another text message from July 12, 2018, which had been sent to the defendant and that contained information about the burial of a person which the defendant had explained was one of the persons who appeared in the pictures of the football team.

The prosecution then moved on to the defendant’s alleged participation in the executions. The referred to a list created by the MEK of people who were executed during the summer of 1988 and a similar list by the Iran Tribunal’s list and explained that the defendant was asked about these lists during his questioning in the District Court.  The prosecution explained that the defendant had also been asked about how he perceived the testimonies and claims made by the plaintiffs in District Court concerning his presence in various situations during the execution period. Among other things, the prosecution had referred to statements made by Plaintiff 35 during his testimony and in his book “A Galaxy of Stars”, and the testimonies of several other plaintiffs such as Plaintiff 14 and Plaintiff 26.

The prosecution then moved on to about the part of the questioning in the District Court which concerned Hossein Ali Montazeri and Ayatollah Kohemini’s fatwa (see report 45). The prosecution displayed a picture of the letter sent from Montazeri to Ayatollah Kohemini following the issuing of the fatwa and the notes that Montazeri wrote to the members of the so-called death committee. The prosecution also referred to a recording of a conversation between Montazeri and the death committee which had been published by his son after Montazeri’s death. Furthermore, the prosecution also referred to statements made by Abdul-Karim Mousavi Ardebili during the Friday prayer on 5 August 1988 after which people were chanting demands that the MEK followers be executed. The prosecution also pointed to the report “Blood-soaked secrets” by Amnesty International which had the prosecution had referred to during the questioning of the defendant and which it asked the Court of Appeal to take into consideration when watching the recordings of the questioning of the defendant.

The prosecution then moved the additional hearings with the defendant that were held on 21 April 2022. The prosecution began by showing the Court satellite pictures of Gohardasht prison as the defendant had been shown the pictures during the questioning and had been asked questions about the building. Then the prosecution showed some additional photos from the defendant’s phone and explained that it had focused its questioning of the defendant in the District Court on messages sent from his phone to various judicial or legal institutions in Iran and in which the defendant had used the same code name as when he worked in prison. The prosecution explained that a more in-depth examination had been done into the defendant’s phone, which had shown that there were 7291 contacts on the phone out of which 252 contacts had been deleted prior to his trip to Sweden. Some of these deleted contacts could be connected to Evin prison and Gohardasht prison or the Iranian judicial system. The prosecution also explained that the authorities had found 8,500 messages in the defendant’s phone and that a number of sent and received messages had been invoked as evidence in the case, amongst them text messages in which various people asked the defendant for favors in legal matters. The authorities had also been able to find a CV for the defendant which stated that he had work experience from prison and the revolutionary court.

The prosecution further explained that the defendant had been asked during his questioning in the District Court on 21 April 2022 about a recorded call between the defendant’s daughter and his wife through which it had become evident that the defendant’s phone was being emptied the day before his travel to Sweden. The prosecution explained that the authorities had also found screenshots of material and contacts that had been sent to a contact in his phone named after his granddaughter before being deleted. It had later come to light that the phone number attached to his granddaughter’s name was in fact his daughter’s.  The prosecution explained that the screenshots contained pictures of how the defendant had searched for a certain word in his contacts such as prison and then sent that to his daughter, and that those contacts had later not been found in his phone when the phone had been searched by the authorities. Some of the contacts visible in those screenshots and that had been deleted where of people that were connected to Gohardasht prison, such as Naserian (head of Gohardasht prison) and Nayyeri (the chairman of the death committee). After addressing the results from the examination of the defendant’s phone, the prosecution ended their statement for the day’s session.

Defense counsels’ statement

Judge Lund asked if the Court should take a short break before the defense counsels would take the floor, and defense counsel Bodström responded that the defense counsels did not need a break as they would not be talking for too long. Judge Lund then gave the floor to the defense counsels who started their statement.

Defense counsel Bodström began by highlighting that the day’s session pertained to the questioning of the defendant in the District Court and about what the defendant had stated during the questioning. Bodström urged the Court of Appeals to consider that the defendant had not said anything that indicated that he had been involved in taking someone’s life. Bodström underlined that in murder cases, it is important to ask a series of questions regarding the description of the crime: “What happened, how did it happen, when did it happen, where did it happen and by whom?”. Bodström stated that after the Court has reviewed the hearings, it will notice that there is nothing indicating that the defendant has said anything that proves his guilt, regardless of whether he worked in an office or as a guard.

Bodström then noted that there were two matters that the defense counsels wanted to focus on. First, Bodström stated that an iPad containing the preliminary investigation that had previously been taken away from the defendant was returned to him a few weeks ago, only to be seized again. The iPad had been placed in a room, requiring permission to access it and the defendant attempts to obtain permission every morning was often denied, or he was only given permission to use it for a short time. Bodström noted that the official reason for this was that another person had now been placed in the same cell as the defendant. Bodström went on to note that while this could have been a positive thing if the defendant and that person had been able to communicate with each other, the defendant and his cell mate do not have any language in common and cannot utter a single word to each other. Bodström stated that the only difference to the defendant’s situation was that he was now confined in a 7-square-meter cell with another person, instead of being completely isolated. Another issue that Bodström brought up was the difficulty for the defendant to meet with his Iranian lawyer. He was transferred from one prison to another and had invested hours in order to receive permission to meet the lawyer. Once the lawyer had arrived, the defendant had been transferred back to the first prison. He believed that the permission granted by the second prison would still apply, but it did not. Bodström explained that the defendant, despite this, had a brief opportunity to meet with the lawyer who received information last week that he would no longer be allowed to visit his client in custody. Bodström underlined that it was during these circumstances that the defendant spent his fourth summer in total isolation in custody, and that this could amount to torture. He underlined that a fair trial was not possible due to these circumstances and that the equal rights of the parties were not respected.

When defense counsel Hanna Rampe took the floor, she explained that an interview with a police officer who had worked in the investigation that led up to the trial against the defendant had been aired in a Swedish morning TV-show the day before and that information came to light during the interview which created reasons for concern. Rampe said that the defense counsels were surprised that they had not heard about the things that the police officer spoke about in the interview from the prosecution and that it was evident that serious errors had been committed during the preliminary investigation, the trial, and after the trial. Rampe stated that the police officer explained in the interview how he had been meeting with the defendant on a weekly basis, discussing the investigation, the trial, and the defendant’s assertion of innocence. The defense had initially believed that the police officer was simply supervising occasional visits, such as visits from the embassy or the defendant’s family. Rampe argued that the information from the interview revealed that there had been a secret parallel investigationbased on the information by the police officer in question and which he had obtained by building up the defendant’s trust for him over the years. The police officer had said himself in the interview that he had become very close to the defendant. Rampe argued for that there was no other way to understand the police officer’s statements than that a parallel investigation had been conducted in secrecy and noted that the defense counsels had not been informed of any memos from this contact between the police officer and the defendant. The defense counsel will therefore request the notes from these meetings. Rampe stated that neither the current defense counsels nor the defendant’s previous counsels have had the opportunity to participate in these hearings with the defendant. In the interview, it was revealed that the defendant called the police officer to vent, and it must be assumed that the police officer asked questions during these calls.

Rampe continued to explain that it was also revealed through the interview that the police officer, who had worked intensively on the defendant’s case, had an uncle who had been executed in Evin prison where the defendant had worked. Rampe went on to note that regardless of whether the defendant had worked in administration or not it was apparent to the police that his uncle and the defendant had been inside the prison during the same time. This suggests that the police had a suspicion that the defendant may have been involved in the execution of his uncle. At the very least, the police officer must have pondered on this while working on the investigation. Rampe explained that the police officer described in the interview the profound impact that his uncle’s fate had on him, detailing how the death announcement had deeply affected him. Rampe argued that there was a clear conflict of interest and explained that the defense counsels wanted to know if this had been known to the prosecution and the Court, and if the previous defense attorneys had been informed. The defendant had, according to Rampe, no idea about the police officer’s personal connection to the person allegedly executed while the defendant worked in Evin prison. Rampe stated the right to a fair trial had undeniably been undermined and the authorities had not adhered to their obligation to stay objective. Rampe explained that the defense counsel would return to the Court of Appeal with a statement regarding this matter and stated that the police officer in question had been involved in the selection and translation of evidence. Rampe explained that the prosecution had made a particular selection when referring to parts of Montazeri’s memoirs and had left out other parts. It was only because of information provided by the defendant that the defense counsel could show that Montazeri himself had doubts about the authenticity of the fatwa. By omitting the part in Montazeri’s memoirs that details his doubts about the fatwa’s authenticity, the police officer in question, who was the one who had made conducted the selection, had damaged the credibility of the investigation and rendered it impossible for the defendant to counter the statements. Rampe concluded that the defendant had not only been deceived to come to Sweden and “deleted” by the prison administration but has also had to face a biased police officer. Lastly, Rampe explained that the defense counsels will submit an application for the Court to dismiss the case and that the defense counsels will ask the prosecutor a number of questions about the events.

Clarifying questions and statements

Judge Lund thanked the defense counsels and asked if the prosecution would like to comment. The prosecution said that it would want to answer but wanted a clarification on the question posed to the prosecution by the defense counsel: Was the question whether this was known to the prosecution?  Defense counsel Rampe responded that the defense would submit written questions but that it wanted the prosecution to explain the police’s connection to the investigation. Defense counsel Bodström then added that the counsels would go through the evidence and investigation to evaluate the police officer’s involvement in it and review the memos in the investigation and assess how they reflect the number of conversations held between the defendant and the police officer. Bodström stated that the counsels would submit the written questions for the prosecution to respond to before 9 June.

Lund asked if there were any further issues to discuss before closing the trial day and the prosecution mentioned that it will need to supplement the presentation of evidence from Plaintiff 1, and that it also wanted to ensure that material from the book “Aftabkaran” was presented since the prosecution would otherwise supplement the evidence with this. The prosecution explained that it may need extra time for the additional evidence, and that it would most likely be presented after the summer. Judge Lund acknowledged this and stated that he believed that they would not come further on the matters addressed during the day and adjourned the day’s session.

Next report

In the next report, we will summarize the content of the next court session which is scheduled for 19 June 2023.