Report 55: The prosecution’s closing statement

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 a hearing conducted on 1 September 2023 with a police officer who was heard at the request of the prosecution after the defence counsels had raised a possible conflict of interest stemming from his participation in the investigation against the defendant.

In this report, we have summarised the prosecution’s closing statement, presented on 16 and 18 October 2023. 

Opening of the trial day

Presiding judge Lund opened the trial day by welcoming everyone to the Court.  He explained that the day’s court session and the following court session on 18 October would consist of the prosecution’s closing statement, which would be preceded by a brief statement by Plaintiff Counsel Lewis regarding newly submitted evidence.

Lewis explained that evidence concerned the participation of MEK in the war between Iraq and Iran, asserting that there was no evidence that Iraqi forces had participated in Operation Eternal Light. Lewis stated that the purpose of the new evidence was to further strengthen his take that the MEK was not under overall control of Iraq and that the conflict between MEK and Iran did not form part of an international armed conflict.

The floor was then handed over to the prosecution to begin its closing statement.

The prosecution’s closing statement

The prosecution began by stating that it was particularly challenging to summarise the prosecution’s standpoint in this case since several factors complicated the current case, such as the lack of collaboration from Iran to investigate the defendant’s crimes and the fact that the crimes took place a long time ago.

The prosecution then noted that the Court of Appeal had spent a significant amount of time listening to the defence counsels claim that the defendant’s situation in detention constituted a violation of his human rights which should prompt the Court should dismiss the case. The prosecution argued that the defence counsels were creating a false narrative about the investigation and the trial and expressed their concern over this false narrative being broadcasted through audio streaming of the District Court and Appeal Court proceedings. The prosecution further raised their concern over the defence counsels’ depiction of the investigation as “secret” and of a hidden agenda from the police and prosecution. Such claims undermined the Swedish judicial system, the prosecution argued. The prosecution added that it did not contest that there were important flaws that the defence had reason to raise, such as the treatment of the defendant in detention, which both the prosecution and the Court had attempted to remedy. The police officer’s personal connection to the executions of political prisoners in Iran (see report 54) had also required review, and the prosecution agreed that it should have informed the defence counsels about the connection at an earlier stage but that the prosecution’s initial assessment had been, and was still, that there was no personal connection between the police officer and the case as such. The prosecution went on to state that the interests of different parties had constantly made themselves reminded throughout the trial: the Iranian regime has an agenda, while MEK has an agenda which included proving that the organisation operating without a link to Iraq.  

The prosecution continued by addressing the current political climate in Iran, and stated that Iran is a closed and difficult-to-access country, which affected the possibility to investigate the crimes in question. The prosecution went on to state that the United Nations, Amnesty International and countless Iranian exiles all asserted that rule of law principles are not upheld in Iran.

The prosecution moved on to discuss the time period before the 1988 mass executions, the 1979 revolution and the events leading up to it. The prosecution described  how after the revolution, surveillance mechanisms were introduced to suppress all opposition against the new regime while the new constitution introduced major societal changes and an overall tightening of control.

The prosecution underlined that the defendant had himself stated that he, in 1361 (1982-1983), had sought refuge in the revolutionary prosecutor’s office with the aim of protecting the 1979 revolution. He had shown an interest in upholding the system that was established after the revolution and had been loyal the regime from the very beginning. The prosecution argued that it could be concluded that the defendant’s reasoning and objections in the current case mirrored the official line of the Iranian regime.

The prosecution then moved on to address some of the defendant’s claims concerning the 1988 mass executions and the events leading up to it. The prosecution noted that the defendant contested the existence of a fatwa issued by ayatollah Khomeini prior to the 1988 mass executions and the existence of any executions during the summer of 1988 and that he claimed that what the prosecution believed to be hearings by a so-called “death committee” was instead hearings with a pardoning committee.  

The prosecution went on to argue that the fatwa’s existence is supported by additional evidence, such as excerpts from a book published by the regime-affiliated Islamic Revolution Documentation Center. There was also a letter to ayatollah Khomeini referencing military operations and requesting action against MEK. This letter was followed by the issuance of the fatwa. The prosecution also argued that ayatollah Montazeri’s memoirs further confirm the fatwa’s existence. Furthermore, the prosecution pointed to the several expert witnesses’ statements, which affirm the fatwa’s existence and its attempted concealment.

The prosecution continued by addressing the existence of a second fatwa about the prisoners sympathising with left-wing groups and stated that it was uncertain if such a fatwa existed. The prosecution added that even if the connection between a fatwa and the executions of sympathisers of left-wing groups in Gohardasht prison could be debated, the evidence spoke overwhelmingly in support of the occurrence of executions of sympathisers of left-wing groups during the relevant time period.

The prosecution then stated that information about the events of 1988 reached the international community despite the Iranian regime’s attempts to conceal it. Both the United Nations and Amnesty International had raised concerns around or after the executions. Official statements from Iran attempted to justify the executions, citing conspiracies between the MEK and foreign entities. In 2013, controlled articles and expert opinions were published, linking armed groups to MEK’s collaboration with Iraq. The prosecution explained that there had been a reluctance to acknowledge the executions in the past, but that there has been a shift in the regime’s stance and that it was now more willing to admit that the mass-executions had occurred but that it instead asserted that it had been correct to carry them out.

The prosecution then moved on to address the question of whether the individuals in the prosecution’s list of executed persons during the 1988 mass executions had in fact been executed in Gohardasht prison during the relevant time period. It was noted that most of the names in the lists were corroborated by other lists that had been created by other actors, such as Iran Tribunal. While there was slight discrepancies between the lists concerning exact dates of the execution, the prosecution argued that evidence from other sources established the correct time frame, which was in accordance with the time frame of the crime as presented by the prosecution.

The prosecution explained that the lists were primarily important to demonstrate that the executed persons had in fact been present in Gohardasht during the execution period. That the persons had been executed could then be corroborated by statements by plaintiffs and witnesses who had been meticulous in providing names of those the people that they are certain were executed in Gohardasht and by survivors who had made significant efforts to gather information about those executed during this period in the years following the executions.

The prosecution went on to address the identity of the defendant and went on to repeat detailed accounts by plaintiffs and witnesses of interactions that they have had in Gohardasht prison before, during and after the executions with the person that the prosecution claims is the defendant.

The prosecution argued that, overall, the testimonies established the defendant’s presence and involvement in various aspects of the prisoners’ lives before, during, and after the executions in Gohardasht prison and that the defendant was in fact the person that had been mentioned  by the plaintiffs and witnesses. These testimonies also contributed to the understanding of the defendant’s role in the 1988 mass executions.

The prosecution then went on to address the question of whether the defendant had participated in the executions to the extent that the prosecution claimed. The prosecution provided a detailed account of the events in Gohardasht prison during the summer of 1988, particularly focusing on the involvement of the defendant in the executions. The prosecution argued that the defendant played a significant role in the operations and was actively engaged in the selection and handling of prisoners for execution.

The prosecution outlined instances where the defendant was mentioned as being present and actively participating in the process leading up to the executions. The prosecution also provided a recollection of witnesses and plaintiffs’ descriptions of the defendant’s interactions with both prisoners and fellow staff members, providing specific details about his actions and responsibilities. The prosecution emphasised that many of the plaintiffs and witnesses had consistently identified the defendant as a key figure in these events.

Furthermore, the prosecution highlighted instances when the defendant allegedly claimed to be on leave during critical periods, which the prosecution argued was inconsistent with the witness and plaintiff’s testimonies and other evidence presented in the case. The prosecution suggested that this indicated a deliberate attempt to mislead the investigators.

The prosecution concluded that that the testimonies given in Court and to other actors in the years following the executions, consistently showed that the defendant had a significant role in the events.

The prosecution then moved on to its legal analysis of the events. it began this analysis by providing its’ view on the classification of the conflict between MEK and Iran and whether it should be classified as a non-international armed conflict (NIAC) or as having formed part of an international armed conflict (IAC). As done previously in District Court and during its opening statement in the Appeal Court, the prosecution applied the test of overall control from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

As such, the prosecution underscored Iraq’s extensive support to MEK, including financial backing, the provision of weapons, military training, and the allocation of territory for MEK’s headquarters at Camp Ashraf on Iraqi soil. The prosecution argued that, more importantly, there is evidence of attacks being closely coordinated with Iraqi forces, indicating that the military operations had been coordinated and that there was a clear chain of command as well as a division of labour in which Iraq had acted as the superior and commanding party. These aspects collectively formed a compelling argument for Iraq exercising overall control over MEK and thus for concluding that MEK had formed part of the international armed conflict between Iran and Iraq, argued the prosecution. The prosecution added that this perspective found further substantiation in statements from prominent political figures and official sources within Iran, who unequivocally characterized MEK as an enemy combatant closely aligned with Iraq during the war.

Conversely, the prosecution contended that even if the  coordination between Iraq and MEK did not meet the criteria of the overall control-test, the armed conflict at least  fulfilled the requisites for a non-international armed conflict. The prosecution pointed to the intensity of the violence, particularly during specific military operations, as a crucial indicator of MEK’s active participation in an armed conflict rather than an instance of temporary unrest. The prosecution also emphasised MEK’s organisational and operational coherence as an armed group constituted clear indicators of an ongoing armed conflict sufficient to be classified as non-international.

Integral to the case at hand, regardless of the classification of the armed conflict, is the establishment of a nexus between the acts and the armed conflict. This nexus is imperative in determining whether to apply  international humanitarian law and, in extension chapter 6, section 22 of the Swedish Criminal Code to the alleged acts of the defendant. The prosecution used statements from Iranian authorities and sources affiliated with the regime to underpin the argument that the 1988 mass-executions in Gohardasht prison were intrinsically linked to the ongoing armed conflict.

The prosecution then addressed the second wave of executions during the summer of 1988, which targeted sympathisers of left-wing groups and noted that there was no nexus between the executions and the armed conflict. Therefore, the prosecution added, the acts should instead be assessed as murder according to section 1 in Chapter 3 of the Swedish Criminal Code.

The prosecution concluded its closing statement by explaining which punishment that the prosecutions considered as appropriate for the alleged crimes. The prosecution stated that, in line with the verdict of the District Court, it did not consider any other option but life imprisonment, considering the gravity and scope of the alleged actions.. The prosecution added that, even taking into account the extended time since the crimes occurred and the fact that the defendant has been subjected to a long period of detention and oftentimes with restrictions, there is no room for any other punishment than life imprisonment.

As for the continued detention of the defendant while awaiting the verdict of the Court, the prosecution argued that there is an obvious risk that the defendant would abscond if released.

The prosecution then addressed the request for deportation and referred to the District Court’s decision (see report 43). Finally, the prosecution requested to retain the seized evidence. With this, the prosecution concluded their closing statement.

Closing of the trial day

The Court had no immediate questions and neither did any of the other parties. Presiding judge Lund thus declared the trial day concluded.

Next report

During the next court session, which takes place on 31 October 2023, the plaintiff counsels will deliver their concluding remarks. The next report, which will be published shortly thereafter, will summarise the content of the closing remarks.