A courtroom outburst from the defendant marked the 16th session of the criminal trial of Hamid Nouri in Stockholm, Sweden on Thursday.
Mehdi Eshaghi was the latest witness to take the stand against the former Gohardasht Prison official, who is accused of war crimes and murder for his part in the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran.
Eshaghi, who was first arrested in 1982 when he was in the fourth grade, testified about his time behind bars and how he, like others, was able to positively identify Nouri. During his evidence he described Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic who had ordered the killings of thousands that summer, as a “bloodthirsty executioner”.
This prompted a rapid response from Nouri, who protested from the dock: “Do not insult!”. The prosecutor reminded Eshaghi to use people’s real names only – in a court atmosphere that, due to the horrors he was describing, was already charged enough.
Ex-Prisoner Narrates How a Few Words Saved his Life
Mehdi Eshaghi’s testimony, which was broadcast live on Clubhouse, followed that of his brother and fellow ex-detainee Mohsen Eshaghi earlier in the week. Their other brother, Manouchehr, is also due to speak as both plaintiff and witness.
In the 16th session, Eshaghi presented a written verdict issued to him by the Revolutionary Court in the 1980s to the Swedish judge. The issuance of written sentences by the court in the early 1980s, he said, was a "mistake" the regime later tried to correct by taking them back. “I thought about the future, and hung onto my verdict,” he said. “I put it in the bag that I always carry with me, and I have it here today.”
Jailed for his political activities alongside thousands of others, Eshaghi was later transferred from Ghezel Hesar Prison in Karaj to Gohardasht, where Nouri worked. This facility, he said, was known as a “closed” one among the convicts: “A prisoner has no way out of his cell. There is limited space on the breaks; not so much as a crow passes over his head." At one point about 65 of his fellow inmates protested against the poor conditions. Many, he said, were later executed.
In 1988, he too would be hauled before the infamous Tehran “death panel”, which sent an untold number of opposition Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK) members and leftists to be systematically killed that summer. Blindfolded, he was taken into a room where Judge Hossein-Ali Nayeri and Judge Moghiseh, then known as Naserian, put a simple question to him: “Since when have you been a monafeq [hypocrite]?”.
When he responded that he never had been, Eshaghi said he heard another person in the room remark: “These aren’t hypocrites. These are dog-hypocrites.” In the parlance of the Islamic Republic under Khomeini, “hypocrites” was the term used to describe the MEK.
The young Eshaghi was then asked to write a letter of repentance and give a contrite interview on Iranian state radio and television. He agreed to the terms, he said, “because I wanted to stay alive. Because I loved myself. Why should I have been killed?”
Hamid Nouri “Didn’t Care If We Saw Him”
Eshaghi also confirmed he had encountered Hamid Nouri in the already-infamous “corridor of death”, which took prisoners in to see the panel and then on to their execution if they gave the wrong answer. In the prison pecking order, he said, Judge Naserian seemed to rank highest but Nouri got the last word in.
He also had first-hand experience of Nouri taking prisoners between rooms for torture. “The rule was that prisoners should put on their blindfolds outside the cell,” he said. “Hamid Nouri knew we’d see him, but he didn’t care.” On one occasion, he said, he caught a glimpse of Nouri himself: “I was in Hamid Abbasi's room. He was having to check the list in front of him, the list of prisoners, in search of something, and he wasn’t looking directly at me. In that moment, I had the opportunity to see him clearly. He found out, but he didn’t care."
Eshaghi later had another altercation with Nouri. He’d intervened after his also jailed uncle was attacked up by the Revolutionary Guards, and was taken straight to see the top official: “Nouri slapped me on the ear as soon as he saw me and said: 'You’ve got so rude, you raise your hand to the pasdaran [Guards] brothers?’ I said I hadn’t raised my hand to anyone, just prevented two guards from beating my blindfolded uncle.”
He confirmed he had also seen Hamid Nouri in Evin Prison, today Iran’s most notorious jail for prisoners of consciousness, after the 1988 massacre had subsided.
"In 1989, after the death of Khomeini, the bloodthirsty executioner” – it was at this point in his testimony that Nouri interjected from the dock – “I was mocking a poem being broadcast on television. One of the prisoners went out and informed on me. They took me to Hamid Nouri's room and kicked me."
As a result of this incident, Eshaghi said, he was taken to solitary confinement for five months, after which “Hamid Nouri told me that if I cut my long hair and beard, he’d send me to back to solitary confinement. We hated the beard because it was a symbol of these people. I shaved my beard off that day."
Hamid Nouri’s trial at Stockholm District Court is expected to run until spring next year. The case is the result of a private complaint made in November 2019 while Nouri was visiting the country. After he was detained by Swedish police, prosecutors made the decision to charge him on the principle of international jurisdiction.
His lawyers have denied all allegations against him since the beginning of his trial. Nouri has claimed he served as nothing more than an “office clerk” at Gohardasht and was on leave during the bloody summer of 1988 due to the birth of his son. He is the first member of the Iranian judiciary to be put on trial in connection with the massacre.
The trial continues.