Ex-Iranian prison official Hamid Nouri shouted out in anger from the defendant’s bench at Stockholm District Court this week after a testifying witness described him as an “executioner”.
The 60-year-old is standing trial in Sweden for war crimes and murder in connection with Iran’s 1988 prison massacre. That summer, thousands of Iranian political detainees, mostly members of the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) organization and leftist groups, were systematically murdered in secret in prisons across the country on the orders of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Nouri was arrested during a visit to Sweden in November 2019. Survivors of the massacre identified him as the ex-prosecutor’s assistant at Evin and Gohardasht Prisons. Then using the pseudonym Hamid Abbasi, Nouri is alleged to have taken detainees before a “death panel” that decided their fates, and subsequently escorted hundreds to their deaths by hanging or firing squad. The alleged crimes are so severe that in a world first for an Iranian official he is being prosecuted in a third country under principles of international jurisdiction.
During the 26th sitting of the criminal trial in Stockholm, survivor Seyed Jalaledin Saeedi, known simply as Jalal Saeedi, took the stand to describe his own encounter with Nouri in late 1988. Saeedi was arrested in March 1984 and sentenced to 15 years in prison for membership of the left-wing organization Rah-e Kargar.
In part of his testimony, the political activist used the word "executioners" to describe those who had facilitated the slaughter. This prompted Nouri to shout out: “The executioners are his parents! He is not allowed to insult anyone.”
Saeedi had been transferred to Gohardasht Prison in 1986. In the run-up to the killings, he said, he was being held on Ward 5 with 100 other leftist inmates. He and his cohort survived, but they saw part of what was happening to the others, and learned the details through Morse code that other inmates tapped on the prison walls. Saeedi’s life was spared, he said, on the basis that he was determined to be a Muslim – albeit one who did not pray. This earned him and others brutal flogging instead of death.
The ex-prisoner told the court he had personally seen Hamid Nouri taking three inmates for interrogation by the “death panel”. He saw Nouri up close, without a blindfold, on just one occasion.
The meeting between the two came in September 1988, by which time thousands of prisoners are believed to have been killed in Iran. The previous year, detainees had been made to fill out questionnaires on their level of allegiance to the Islamic Republic and the nature of their faith: the answers to which, unbeknownst to them, would later determine if they lived or died.
That month, Saeedi said, he and 10 of his cellmates had petitioned to be moved to a different ward. Nouri had approached holding the filled-out questionnaires in his hand and, he said, told him: “I missed this one. If I’d seen your questionnaire a month ago or if it was under my control, you would not be alive to ask for anything now. But it’s still not over."
Despite all the time that had passed since then, Jalal Saeedi, who has a background in portrait-painting, told the court he was positive the defendant sitting before him was the same Hamid Nouri/Abbasi.
Later in February 1989, Saeedi was transferred to Evin Prison, where he learned that a detainee from his organization, Hossein Haj Mohsen, had also been killed after going before the “death panel”. Saeedi was granted early release, and on asking officials why, he said he was told it was a “show” for the international community and he was “lucky” to have survived.
Nouri’s outburst during the testimony rankled the sitting judge, who told him – for at least the second time during proceedings – that he was not allowed to interject during someone else’s evidence. The judge then called a 15-minute break and apologized to Jalal Saeedi for the interruption.
The case continues. The next sitting will take place on Friday, February 18.
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