Iranian prison official faces court in landmark trial in Sweden

Iranian prison official faces court in landmark trial in Sweden
A demonstration outside court on the opening day of the trial. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT
A former Iranian prison official who is accused of handing down death sentences during the 1988 purge of dissidents in Iran appeared in court for the first time as part of a landmark trial in Sweden.

Hamid Noury, 60, faces charges including crimes against humanity and war crimes over the killings of as many as 5,000 prisoners across Iran, allegedly ordered by supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

The killings were revenge for attacks carried out by the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), an exiled opposition group, at the end of the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88.

The prosecution has said Noury was assistant to the deputy prosecutor of Gohardasht prison near Tehran at the time and handed down death sentences, brought prisoners to the execution chamber and helped prosecutors gather prisoners’ names.

Noury, who has been on trial in Stockholm since August, took the stand on Tuesday for the first time, as several dozen members of MEK protested outside.

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“I have only four days to respond to all the lies that have been told to the Iranian people,” he told the court.

“Everything we’ve heard is repetitive elements, but when you look at the details you realise it doesn’t hold up. I will put an end to 33 years of lies and accusations,” he said in a six-hour statement to the court, without addressing specifics.

He is due to be questioned later this week.

‘Death corridor’

This is the first time an Iranian official has gone on trial for the purge, and Noury will have four days to testify.

The trial has already heard from witnesses including members or ex-members of the MEK.

Noury did not address the charges in detail on Tuesday, his statement often containing rambling patriotic declarations, his views on Iran’s political history and “crimes” committed by the MEK.

His lawyers have previously claimed that he was not present for the killings.

He told the court on Tuesday he had worked as a prosecutor’s assistant but at a different prison, and described himself as “talented” and courteous in his exchanges with prisoners.

“He says he wasn’t there, but we have 58 people who say he was,” Kenneth Lewis, the lawyer for the civil plaintiffs, told AFP.

“When I was in the death corridor… I had the chance to see him and I witnessed that whenever they read some people’s names he followed them towards the death chamber,” one of the civil parties, Reza Falahi, told AFP.

“After, for example, 45 minutes or so he came back, and again and again the same story was repeated.”

Swedish courts can try a person on serious charges such as murder or war crimes regardless of where the offences took place under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

Lured by a cruise

Noury was arrested at a Stockholm airport in November 2019.

Justice campaigner and former political prisoner Iraj Mesdaghi has said he lured Noury to Sweden – where he has family members – with the promise of a luxury cruise.

But Noury told the court a different version on Tuesday, saying he came to Sweden to settle a dispute with a “respectable” Iranian family living in the country.

Prosecutor Kristina Lindhoff Carleson has accused Noury of “intentionally taking the life of a very large number of prisoners sympathetic to or belonging to the People’s Mujahedin” as well as others considered opponents of the “theocratic Iranian state”.

Campaigners accuse current government figures of having a role in the deaths, most notably President Ebrahim Raisi.

The former head of Iran’s judiciary was accused by Amnesty International in 2018 of being a member of a “death commission” which was behind the secret executions. Questioned in 2018 and 2020, Raisi denied involvement but paid “tribute” to Khomeini’s “order” to carry out the purge. Khomeini died in 1989.

“I want the international community to come to the conclusion that there is no way out… they have to end the politics of appeasement with this regime,” another witness who now lives in the UK, Ahmad Ebrahimi, told AFP.


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