After serving a five-year prison sentence in 1987, Mehrzad Dashtbani was summoned to the “Freedom Room”, an internal court in Gohardasht Prison in Iran that ruled on the release of an inmate.
But instead of securing his release papers from the facility outside of the capital, Tehran, Dashtbaniâ€™s visit earned him personal beatings from a prison officer known only as Hamid Abbasi.
When Dashtbani refused to comply with demands that he sign forms giving up his affiliation with a Marxist organization and expressing his commitment to the Islamic regime in Iran, he said Abbasi was furious.
“He threw his arms around my neck and circled and said, ‘Who said you should be released? You are a villain. I will kill you myself!'” Dashtbani recalled last month when he testified that he was left bloody by his attacker.
“You better pray that you get out of here alive,” said Dashtbani, Abbasi told him when it became clear that his sentence would be extended. “There is no difference between 15 years and forever. Don’t think that you escaped us and survived.”
Dashtbani can be considered one of the lucky ones. He remained in prison but survived the purge of “politicians” like him the following year – up to 30,000 according to some reports – and lived to give real names to the faces he saw in a foreign court.
Numerous survivors and family members of the victims have testified in an ongoing trial before the Stockholm District Court, the first time a member of the Iranian regime has been attacked by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic.
Abbasi’s real name, Dashtbani and others have testified, was Hamid Nouri, a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and alleged assistant judge, who was arrested for vacation in 2019 after arriving in Sweden.
Nouri was essentially a henchman, they told the court, whose job it was to determine which prisoners would enter the “corridor of death.” For the elect, this was the last stop before a hearing before one of the three-member “execution committees” set up by Khomeini to carry out his 1988 fatwa that prisoners found guilty of “mohareb” or of waging war against God , be eliminated.
Nouri, who was charged with international war crimes and human rights violations in the murder of more than 100 people, has denied the charges against him. Nouri tried his accusers for six days in November pretending to be a little fish – a member of the Islamic Revolution prosecutor’s office in Tehran who was stationed in a different prison from 1982 to 1993 and was on leave from when the murders of Took place in 1988.
But since the trial began in August, several witnesses have testified that Nouri was a decision maker who is in fact the deputy of the prison’s chief prosecutor, Mohammad Moghiseh, known as a “hanging judge” in Iran.
“I saw him [Nouri] for the first time in the spring of 1987 in Gohardasht Prison, “former prisoner Nasrollah Marandi testified in September, adding that his position held him responsible for all crimes they commit against prisoners.
By the end of the trial in April, more than 100 survivors and family members of the victims are expected to be on record. including the current President Ebrahim Raisi.
“Enemies of God”
Khomeini’s fatwa was initially directed against members of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MKO), an armed left-wing group that is widely regarded as a sect and has been viewed as a terrorist organization by the US and UK for years. The MKO took part in the Islamic Revolution that overthrew the Shah in 1979, but was soon branded a threat by the new clerical establishment.
The MKO openly campaigned for the overthrow of Khomeini and started an armed conflict against the Islamic regime in 1981 and carried out numerous attacks on Iranian targets from exile in neighboring Iraq. But a failed invasion deep into Iranian territory in July 1988 – just days after a ceasefire ended the Iran-Iraq war in 1980-88 – sealed his fate in the eyes of the Supreme Leader.
Through his fatwa, Khomeini paved the way for the immediate execution of Iranian prisoners who were believed to be loyal to the MKO and many of whom had been arrested for the slightest perceived allegiance. The fatwa eventually encompassed all left opponents of the regime, including communists, Trotskyists, Marxist-Leninists and others.
The human rights organization Amnesty International estimates that 4,500 people were executed, while the MKO puts the number at around 30,000. Many of the victims were secretly buried.
The Stockholm trial focuses on Nouris’ alleged “gross crimes of international law” and Murders committed in Karaj â€, the city about 20 kilometers west of Tehran where the Gohardasht prison is located.
After the MKO’s failed invasion of Iran in 1988, thousands of prisoners associated with the group were executed “on the orders of Khomeini – an act that can be defined as a war crime,” the lawyer and activist said Abdolkharim Lahiji across from Radio Farda. from RFE / RL from Paris shortly after the start of the process in August [other] left groups are irrelevant, and so Nouri faces two charges: one related to war crimes and the other related to complicity in a murder. “
Around 2,500 members of the MKO were relocated from Iraq to Albania in 2013. The group was removed from the US list of terrorist organizations in 2012.
During the trial, the public prosecutor tried to find out where in Gohardasht Prison the “Execution Board” meetings were being held and who was present.
Eyewitnesses got through their transcript those they believe were members of the death squads or were involved in carrying out Khomeini’s orders – including senior members of the regime.
In addition to Nouri, there is his alleged superior Moghiseh, who was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2020 and was known to Gohardasht prisoners under the pseudonym “Naserian”. Former Justice Minister Mostafa Purmohammadi is involved as well as former Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Court Hossein-Ali Nayeri, former Justice Minister Mohammad Esmail Shushtari and former Prosecutor of the Revolutionary Court Morteza Eshraghi.
But the ultra-conservative Raisi, who was elected Iranian president in June, is arguably the biggest name that emerges from the statement.
Former prisoner Fereydoun Najafi Arya, who gave a virtual testimony from Australia in October, said he had managed to identify Raisi and other suspected members of the “executive committee” during interrogation.
“Nayeri asked me, ‘Are you going to work with us?’ I said, ‘I didn’t do anything, I was arrested for my siblings,’ “Arya testified.” Then Naserian was ordered to take me awayâ€¦. [He] grabbed my neck to force me to stand and realized that if I didn’t say anything, they would execute me. Then suddenly I took off my blindfold and they were shocked – I saw them all, Raisi and others, and Hamid Nouri was sitting behind them with suitcases in front of him. “
Dashtbani told the Stockholm court that he learned of Khomeini’s 1988 fatwa after he was transferred from Gohardasht to another notorious prison, Tehran’s Evin Prison. From the bars of his cell, he said the next day he glanced at Raisi and two other suspected members of the “execution committee” entering the prison yard.
“I had seen the photos of these people in the newspapers before,” said Dashtbani in court.
Names on faces
Lawyer Lahiji told Radio Farda that one of the biggest challenges in the Nouri trial is verifying the identity of the accused.
“You have to identify Nouri first and then talk about what you saw,” Lahiji said, noting that it was common for law enforcement officials to use pseudonyms in the 1980s. “For example, [Nouri] alleged to have categorized the prisoners to be presented to the judges to decide their fate. All of this has to be clarified in court proceedings. “
But while Lahiji says Raisi could hardly be tried as president because of his current immunity from charge, the world watched.
“Politically, this is an extremely important process because through this process [the] The Islamic Republic is also on trial and Ebrahim Raisi is the president of that republic, “Lahiji said. said. “The way in which Raisi’s credibility is undermined during this process will deter him from representing the Islamic Republic on the international scene.”
When the trial resumes on January 11th, witnesses will relive the horror many have kept in bottles for more than 30 years.
Hamid Nozari, a Berlin-based political activist who attended the trial in August, described a terrifying scene.
“Today survivors and family members had a difficult moment as the prosecutor used the testimony and memoir to describe the ‘death corridor’ and the room where the prisoners stood before the ‘execution committee’,” Nozari said. “I could see the agony on the faces of many of the participants and I would not be exaggerating if I said that some are trembling.”
Attorney Kaveh Mousavi, who represents the plaintiffs in the case, told Radio Farda shortly at the beginning of the trial that he was convinced that Nouri would be sentenced to life imprisonment.
“That can only be reduced a little,” said Mousavi from London, “if he acts wisely and accepts his crimes.” More importantly, the lawyer added, is that Nouri says where the bodies are.
“Many families contact me and say,” Please ask him where they buried our loved ones. “
(Written by RFE / RL’s senior correspondent Michael Scollon, based on coverage and interviews by RFE / RL’s Radio Farda.)