Report 52: Introduction to the fifth block of recorded testimonies
In our previous report, we provided a summary of the introduction to the fourth block of recorded testimonies presented before the Court of Appeal on 29 May 2023.
In this report, we have summarized the introduction by the prosecution and defense counsels to the fifth block of recorded testimonies held on 19 June 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 testimonies given in the District Court.
Opening of the trial day
Presiding judge Lund initiated the day’s proceedings by welcoming everyone to the Court. The defendant entered the court room together with the correctional services, dressed in a white turtleneck shirt, carrying a stack of books in his arms. Judge Lund explained that the Court had recently watched the recordings of the hearings with the defendant in District Court and that it would now approach the fifth block of recorded material and that the court session was dedicated to the presentation by the prosecution and defense counsels concerning that recorded material. Judge Lund then explained that the Court was simultaneously dealing with the issue raised by the defense counsels during the last court session and the prosecutor is expected to provide a response to the defense’s questions on 26 June at the latest. A written document from the prosecution had been sent to the Court the day prior to the current court session, containing a request from the prosecution to conduct a court hearing with the relevant police officer in the coming weeks. Judge Lund explained that this would not be possible as the Court would be on leave in July, and that the hearing would have to be scheduled for a later date. The defense counsel then stated that if a hearing was to take place, the defense should be allowed to participate and possibly conduct interviews with other relevant people. The floor was then given to the prosecution to initiate its presentation of testimonies given by witnesses in District Court.
The prosecution’s statement
The prosecution wanted to start its statement by allocating a few minutes to the question raised by the defense counsels during the prior court session concerning the involvement of a specific police officer in the investigation that led to the indictment of the defendant.
The prosecution stated that the defense counsels had raised several issues during the previous court session (see report 49), and that the prosecution would not speak to all issues today, such as the defense’s claims concerning media coverage of the arrests of the defendant and how the defendant arrived in Sweden, as it had already been discussed in court previously. The prosecution reiterated that the defendant had travelled to Sweden voluntarily without the involvement of any Swedish authorities. Instead, it would focus firstly on the question concerning whether the police officer in question was biased since he had a personal connection to the case at hand and secondly, about the conditions in the jail where the defendant was currently held. The prosecution explained that it would respond in writing to the question about whether it had knowledge about the police officer’s personal connection to the case. The prosecution then explained that it had requested the correctional service to address the issues raised by the defendant concerning the conditions in jail. The prosecution believed that the issue concerning the defendant’s Iranian counsel not being able to visit the defendant in jail was an issue that had not been previously raised with the correctional services. The prosecution argued that the correctional services had a different view of what had happened compared to the defendant and that the situation was more complex than the defense counsels had insinuated. The prosecution explained that it would follow this up by sharing parts of the correctional service’s letter with the defense counsels and the Court to provide a more nuanced explanation to what had occurred.
The prosecution then addressed the issue raised previously by the defense counsels, about copies of the investigation and copies of material submitted to the court being taken away from the defendant in jail. In a letter, a representative for the correctional service explained that the defendant would now have access to all material. The letter further explained that the defendant did not have unlimited access to such material during a 22-day period in May but was instead only allowed to review the material in a specific room on certain occasions. The prosecution underlined that this was deeply problematic considering that the material previously in the possession of the defendant had been destroyed in February.
Regarding the question of the defendant’s request to be examined by an optician, the correctional services had explained that visits to the optician was not included in the healthcare provided by the detention center, but that the defendant would be granted permission for compassionate reason due to the length of his detention.
Additionally, the prosecution addressed the defendant’s claim that he had not been allowed family visits. The prosecution said that the correctional services had stated that the defendant has had unlimited visits from his wife and two children since last summer. It was not true, the prosecution underlined, that the defendant’s son had been denied visits.
The prosecution also addressed the fact that the defendant was kept in isolation in jail and stated that it was a more issue complex than the defense counsels had portrayed it. According to the correctional services, the defendant was kept in isolation because some inmates were afraid of being placed with the defendant and vice versa.
The defendant’s requests to make phone calls had also sometimes been rejected because he did not follow instructions but also due to resource constraints. Since 1 June, the defendant has had the possibility to call his son with retrospective monitoring. The defendant’s requests to call his daughter and sister had been denied for security reasons as it could not be confirmed that the phone numbers actually led to the daughter and sister. They had also been denied visiting him in jail because they could not provide a certificate to prove that they had not previously been sentenced for a crime, which is required for visitors from abroad to show when visiting someone in jail in Sweden.
When the prosecution had finalized its response to the defense’ questions, it moved on to its statement concerning the fifth block of recordings that the Court of Appeal would soon begin to watch.
The prosecution began by explaining that the recordings in question were of testimonies with 15 witnesses heard in District Court who had all been incarcerated in Gohardasht prison themselves. Some of the 15 witnesses had endured similar experiences as the group of victims that had been brought before the death committee, but since they had not themselves been brought before the death committee they were to be considered as witnesses rather than plaintiffs. Additionally, some of the individuals were considered as witnesses rather than plaintiffs despite having been brought to the death corridor and death committee, but since they belonged to various leftist groups rather than the MEK, the acts committed against them could not be linked to an armed conflict and thus did not constitute war crimes.
The prosecution stated they had prepared presentations concerning the testimonies of nine out of the 15 witnesses but that it would mention some of the remaining six witnesses briefly.
The prosecution proceeded to introduce Witness 6 who was arrested at the age of 13 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Initially held in Evin prison, where he was forced to witness executions, he was later transferred to Gohardasht prison. He was not brought before the death committee. The witness was interviewed for a report by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center on the mass execution of political prisoners. He was questioned in District Court about why he had mentioned Naserian, but not the defendant in his interview for the report. In one part of the interview for the report, the witness had described a situation and had mentioned Naserian in that context but when describing the same situation in District Court, the witness had instead mentioned the defendant. Finally, the prosecution showed pictures of a football team in Evin prison, which had been shown to Witness 6 during his hearing in District Court. During the hearing, the witness had identified Witness 8 in one picture with another person described by several witnesses as the person responsible for athletics in Evin prison. Another picture of the football team was shown to the Court, which had also been shown to Witness 6 in District Court. During his hearing, the witness had pointed out himself in the picture and had named the guard standing next to him in the picture.
The prosecution then moved on to Witness 20, who was arrested in 1360 (1981) due to his membership in MEK and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Witness 20 was transferred between several prisons and was in Gohardasht prison during the execution period but was not brought before the death committee. The prosecution explained that during his hearing in District Court, Witness 6 was asked about the arrangements for the defendant’s arrival in Sweden and his contact with Plaintiff 1, as well his identification of the defendant as the person encountered in Gohardasht prison. The prosecution concluded by stating that Witness 6 also participated in the Iran Tribunal both by providing his written testimony and by giving his testimony orally in the Hague.
The prosecution proceeded to Witness 1. Witness 1 was initially heard as a plaintiff in a video interview conducted by the District Court over link from Albania, where he currently resides. The witness was arrested in 1361 (1982/1983) due to his affiliation with the MEK. The exact sentence is unclear, but he spent 10 years in prison, including in Gohardasht prison, without appearing before the death committee. The prosecution then referred to written evidence, including an interview with Justice for the Victims of the 1988 Massacre in Iran (JVMI) conducted in 2016, where the witness discussed various observations that he had made while incarcerated in Gohardasht prison.
The prosecution then moved on to Witness 2 who was arrested at the age of 18 for having expressed sympathy for the MEK. Witness 2 had testified in District Court about the defendant participating in a physical assault against him that had resulted in loss of vision in one of his eyes. The witness had been transferred to Evin prison at the beginning of the summer of 1988 and was thus not present in Gohardasht prison during the time of the mass executions. The witness informed the District Court that he had seen the defendant and Naserian in Evin prison towards the end of Mordad 1367 (August 1988). The prosecution explained that the witness had written a book that had been translated and is available in one of the additional protocols to the indictment and that this had been discussed during the hearing of the witness in District Court, as the former defense counsels had requested the book to be translated.
The prosecution then proceeded to Witness 3 who had not been a prisoner in Gohardasht but in two prisons. Witness 3 was arrested in 1360 and sentenced to 10 years of prison for sympathizing with the MEK. Initially, he was incarcerated in Ghezel Hesar prison, but was later transferred to Evin prison in 1366, where he was present during the mass executions. He appeared before the death committee in Evin prison and believed that he had been pardoned. However, after meeting the death committee, he was placed in isolation where they could reveal that he was not granted a pardon. The witness had also explained how, after the period of mass executions, a significant number of prisoners from Gohardasht prison were transferred to Evin prison. Furthermore, the prosecution underlined that the witness had been in contact with the defendant in Evin prison both before and after the execution period. The prosecution then addressed excerpts from Plaintiff 1’s book, “The Dance of Firebirds and the Sound of Ashes,”(author’s note: translation to English from the Swedish translation of the original title of the book in Farsi) which recounted Witness 3’s experiences.
The prosecution continued by addressing the testimony of Witness 4, who was arrested in 1360 (1981/1982) while studying in university and was sentenced to 4 years in prison due to his association with MEK. Witness 4 spent 10 years in prison but was not brought before the death committee. During his hearing in District Court, the witness was also shown pictures of the football team (mentioned above in this report) where he identified Witness 6 and 8.
The prosecution then continued with Witness 29, who was a member of a left-wing organization at the time of his arrest. He was sentenced to death, which was later changed to a 15-year prison sentence. Witness 29 was present in Gohardasht prison during the execution period and was transferred to Evin prison afterwards. He had been brought before the death committee in Gohardasht prison. Witness 29 had also been interviewed for the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center’s report and the prosecution explained that the witness had received questions regarding some of the information given in the report that did not match the timeline, but that the witness had clarified this in his testimony. The prosecution also pointed to how Witness 29 had described the physical abuse that took place after his arrival to Gohardasht and that there was an excerpt from the report that also provided information about the changes in the prison preceding the upcoming executions. Witness 29 had also shared his account on the death committee being portrayed as a pardoning committee. In his hearing in the District Court, Witness 29 had recounted an incident where he and other prisoners were taken to the death corridor, in close proximity to the amphi theatre, where he witnessed scattered clothes, slippers, and gallows close by. The witness had also described that he was moved to Evin prison after the executions, stated the prosecution.
The prosecution proceeded with Witness 8, who was initially sentenced to life imprisonment, which was later reduced to 8 years and then prolonged to 15 years. The conversion to a 15-year sentence occurred during a meeting with the defendant, without a blindfold. Witness 8 was not brought before the death committee. The prosecution explained that there was relevant written evidence concerning the witness from both the Iran Tribunal and Abdorrahman Boroumand Center’s report. In the center’s report, the witness had mentioned protesting with fellow inmates against being transferred to the Jahad ward, which was a section of the prison associated with prisoners who cooperated with the prison administration. The prosecution then explained that the report was discussed during the witness’ testimony in District Court as he had not mentioned the defendant in his interview for the report. The witness had explained this by saying that some information that he provided during the interview did not make it into the final version of the report. The prosecution then presented the additional information from the interview conducted for the report which had been submitted by the person that conducted the interview, where the witness had mentioned the defendant by name as someone he had known as a “dadyar”. The prosecution explained that this excerpt from the interview material related to the situation when Witness 8 learned that his sentence was changed to 15 years instead of eight. The prosecution also displayed pictures of the football team (mentioned previously in this report) depicting Witness 8. The prosecution concluded by stating that the District Court had found that the witness had several distinctive experiences with the defendant in Gohardasht and Evin prison.
The prosecution then continued with Witness 18, who was arrested in 1363 and sentenced to 15 years in prison for being a member of a Marxist organization. He arrived to Gohardasht prison in 1365 (1986/1987) and was released after five years. The witness had not been brought before the death committee, but the prosecution underlined that he had contact with the defendant after the executions.
Following this, the prosecution addressed the testimony of Witness 9, who was arrested along with his wife and was a member of a Marxist organization. He was arrested in 1360 (1981/1982) and sentenced to 5 years in prison. He was brought before the death committee once. The prosecution also referred to an excerpt from an article that the witness had written in the magazine KAR 563, which was included in the investigation through another witness who submitted the material. The article, published in 2013, discusses the witness’ time in Gohardasht prison and recounts situations where he was being interrogated by Naserian, without mentioning the defendant. The prosecution highlighted that Witness 9 was sentenced to a time-limited 5-year term and had mentioned several fellow prisoners who were executed. Witness 9 had also been interviewed for the report by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center, where he described an incident when he and fellow inmates were taken to the death corridor and interrogated by Naserian. In District Court, he was questioned about the dates and timelines of the events. The prosecution also stated that the witness had recounted in District Court how he had been brought before the death committee and how he had been questioned by the deputy prosecutor (who he meant was the defendant).
The prosecution proceeded to Witness 25, who was arrested in 1361 (1982/1983) and sentenced to 10 years in prison due to being a member of a Marxist organization. He arrived in Gohardasht prison in 1365 (1986/1987) and was brought before the death committee once. The prosecution pointed to a document that had been submitted to the Court, which had the witness’ name on it and stated that he was sentenced to 10 years in prison, until the end of 1370 (1991/1992). The prosecution highlighted a date that was at the top of the document: “1361, the 20th of the 11th month”. The witness’ signature was at the end of the paper displaying that he had approved his sentence and was then followed by a signature by the “dadyar”, although the name of the signature was not clear. The prosecution then stated that Witness 25 had participated in the Iran Tribunal, where he recounted his time in Gohardasht prison and the torture that occurred there. The witness had also mentioned his release, but the prosecution stated that it would not delve into further details, as the Court would soon review the testimonies itself.
The prosecution then made short statements of the final witnesses. They began with Witness 11 who was arrested in 1360 (1981/1982) for distributing flyers on behalf of a Marxist-Leninist organization and appeared before the death committee once, with the presence of the defendant. He was released in 1368 (1989/1990). The prosecution then continued with Witness 12, who was arrested in 1360 (1981/1982) and sentenced to 12 years in prison for his political activism with the Iranian Communist Federation. Witness 12 had not been brought before the death committee and was released at the beginning of 1368 (1989/1990).
The prosecution proceeded to explain that Witness 10 was arrested in 1360 (1981/1982) for sympathizing with a Marxist organization and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was initially held at Evin and Ghezel Hesar prison before being transferred to Gohardasht prison in 1366 (1987). Witness 10 appeared before the death committee once, had encounters with the defendant during the execution period and had also been physically abused by the defendant during that time. Additionally, the prosecution stated that before his release in 1368 (1989/1990), he was taken to the “dadyar”’s office where he had to pay bail, and it was during this encounter that the witness met the defendant.
The prosecution concluded its statement, upon which Judge Lund explained that none of the plaintiff counsels had requested to speak during the court session and that the court would therefore give the floor to the defense counsels. Judge Lund underlined that the focus of the defense counsels’ presentation should be on the upcoming block of recorded testimonies that the Court will listen to.
The defense counsels’ statement
The defense counsels began with a brief comment on the prosecution’s opening statement of the day. Defense Counsel Rampe stated that she would not delve into the potential conflicts of interest that the police officer active in the investigation may have had and that the counsels will await written statements from the prosecution. Rampe then highlighted the challenges faced by the client and their Iranian lawyer in obtaining permissions for visits, while emphasizing that obtaining permission and actually visiting in person are two different things. Rampe acknowledged the potential validity of the claim from the correctional service that the defendant had restricted access to investigation material and court papers during 22 days in May but underlined that the material had been taken away from him previously as well. Additionally, defense counsel Rampe mentioned the defendant’s right to meet an optician, and that it was still uncertain whether the correctional services will allow it. She highlighted the defendant’s unique needs as a 60-year-old who has been incarcerated for three years, suggesting that the current system does not adequately accommodate the defendant’s needs.
Defense counsel Bodström then continued and emphasized the significance of what the witnesses have said in other contexts, such as in the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center report, and before the Iran Tribunal. Bodström referred to the report by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center, and that it mentioned multiple individuals, including Nayyeri, Naserian, and Lashkari, but that the defendant was not mentioned. Similarly, in the Iran Tribunal, where 92 individuals provided testimonies, only one person mentioned the defendant and that was after having read Plaintiff 1’s book in which the defendant was mentioned. Bodström argued that the witnesses had not made substantial references to the defendant in those reports. He further mentioned the testimony by Witness 6, in which the witness recounted how he had seen trucks being loaded with bodies during the mass executions. The same incident was also described in Abdorrahman Boroumand’s report but was portrayed differently. Bodström argued that Witness 6 had given the defendant a more substantial role in his testimony in District Court than when he had previously been interviewed.
Bodström further argued that several of the witnesses had cooperated with Plaintiff 1, arguing that these had been influenced by his work and his role in initiating the proceeding against the defendant.
Bodström then discussed the testimony of Witness 20 and that the witness had said that he had seen the defendant in the courtyard of Gohardasht prison. Bodström noted that from his alleged position, the witness should not have been able to observe anything in the courtyard due to the bars covering the prison cell’s windows.
Bodström then moved on to what Witness 2 had stated in his testimony in District Court and argued that there were three incidents that the witness had described that required critical examination by the Court. He further argued that it was important to cross-reference the previous statements made by the witness with his statement in District Court for these incidents. He highlighted that the witness had written a book about his time in prison where he described one of the incidents, and that the defendant was not mentioned in the description of the incident despite the witness describing the defendant’s presence or involvement in the incidents when testifying before the District Court. Instead, the book described Lashkari as being present during the incident. Similarly, the witness had stated in District Court that the defendant had been involved in physical assault against the witness which had led him to lose his sight in one of his eyes. Bodström noted that the defendant was not mentioned in the part of the witness’ book which described the assault, but that the book instead attributed the assault to Naserian who had allegedly struck him in the face with a cable. Bodström further underlined that the defendant was not mentioned in the book at all despite several guards and prisoners being mentioned throughout the book. Bodström stated that it was crucial to consider that Witness 2 could have mistakenly substituted another guard for the defendant. While mistakes can occur, Bodström noted that it was important to note that this seemed to be a pattern.
Bodström then moved on to Witness 3 who never had been in Gohardasht prison but who had been in contact with the defendant both before and after the summer of 1988 in Evin prison. Bodström noted that Witness 3 was not mentioned in the District Court’s verdict and argued that his testimony was not considered to have added any substance to the case. Furthermore, Bodström emphasized that the witness referred to the death committee as a pardoning committee. Lastly, Bodström noted that the witness had not mentioned the defendant in his interview with the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for their report.
Defense counsel Rampe then took the floor and spoke about the witnesses who were sympathizers of left-wing groups. Rampe began with Witness 8 and asked the Court to consider all the details of what the witness claimed that the defendant had done and said, and how he behaved towards the prisoners. Rampe discussed how the witness had described how the prisoners were moved to the Jahad ward due to sewage issues and how the witness recounted how Naserian, the defendant, and Lashkari arranged the transfer, and that it was the defendant who insisted on the move. Witness 8 had also pointed out that the defendant held a higher rank than other prison guards and was a deputy “dadyar”. Rampe then underlined that the witness had not mentioned the defendant in his testimony before the Iran Tribunal, nor in his interview with the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for their report despite mentioning Naserian and several revolutionary guards by their names in the interview. Rampe then added that it was the mentioned police officer who had compared the additional information from the interview with Witness 8 (see above) to its English translation. Rampe urged the Court of Appeal to consider that the witness had never mentioned the defendant or any deputy “dadyar” prior to the arrest of the defendant in Sweden. Taking this into account, the District Court’s conclusion about the testimony being consistent should be questioned, she argued.
Rampe proceeded to discuss the testimony of Witness 9, who had previously provided an account of the defendant’s role in District Court. However, the information given by the witness deviated from the details he had provided in other forums. Rampe referred to the report by Abdorrahman Boroumand Center which described an incident involving Naserian and an unnamed guard, which Witness 9 then claimed was the defendant when heard in District Court. Furthermore, she emphasized that the witness has described in his article in the magazine KAR 653 how Naserian selected and blindfolded prisoners, including the witness himself, and brought them to the death corridor. Rampe noted that the defendant did not appear in this article but that the defendant emerged in the witness’ testimony in District Court as someone who had assumed central role.
After Rampe concluded her statement, Bodström made a remark concerning what he viewed as a pattern among the witnesses of placing the defendant in stories in which he had not previously been mentioned. He rounded of the defense counsels’ presentation by urging the Court to consider whether the testimonies of the witnesses really supported the claim that the defendant had taken someone’s life.
End of the court session
Judge Lund then thanked everyone for their attention and asked if there were any further questions or additional statements from anyone. He then ended the court session by stating that written proceedings were ongoing parallel to the oral proceedings in court and announcing that the next court session is scheduled for 1 September, followed by another court session on 4 September 2023.
In the next report, we will summarize the content of the next court session which is scheduled for 1 September 2023.