The first person to face trial over the massacre of thousands of Iranian prisoners more than 30 years ago was snared after a sophisticated sting operation orchestrated by one of his alleged former victims.
Hamid Nouri, who was charged on Tuesday in Sweden with war crimes and more than 110 murders, was tricked into flying to the European country to resolve a custody battle involving his granddaughter, said Iraj Mesdaghi a former political prisoner.
Mr Mesdaghi – who is due to give evidence in court next month against Mr Nouri – worked with the accused man’s estranged son-in-law to lure the former regime official and book flights for him to Sweden and hotels for a subsequent European holiday.
Activists say Mr Nouri was warned about potential arrest but brushed aside the fears to travel to Sweden in 2019 to see his stepdaughter. He was arrested on arrival at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport after officials had been tipped off about his trip and given a dossier of evidence.
Mr Mesdaghi, who has long campaigned to bring those involved in the massacres to justice, said that Mr Nouri had no idea of the former prisoner’s role in organising the travel plans before he was arrested.
“I arranged everything, even the journey,” said Mr Mesdaghi. “I got the ticket and reserved hotels for him in Barcelona and Milan. His relative was helping me.
“She [Nouri’s granddaughter] couldn’t get a passport to go back to Iran. Hamid Nouri thought he would come to Sweden with our money, have a good time and then try to get a passport from the embassy where he had power and influence.”
Mr Nouri is said to have held the role of assistant to the deputy prosecutor at the Gohardasht prison in Karaj, Iran, at the time of the massacre.
Some 50 former prisoners and their relatives are due to give evidence against Mr Nouri during his trial, which is expected to continue until April next year, said Goran Hjalmarsson, a lawyer representing some of those directly affected by the 1988 massacre.
They are being brought to Sweden from across the world, having gone into exile after serving their sentences, he said.
Mr Mesdaghi is due to give evidence on August 23. He has previously spoken of encountering Mr Nouri at Gohardasht jail and Evin in Tehran during the killings that targeted opposition activists.
Days after the end of the Iran-Iraq war, former Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini signed death warrants for thousands of prison inmates.
Three-man death committees identified thousands of dissidents in prisons and ordered the killing of those who failed tests of loyalty to the regime. Within weeks, thousands had been killed, followed by a second wave of executions of left-wing critics of the regime. An estimated 5,000 people died.
Despite a series of critical reports by the UN, lawyers and rights groups, calling for prosecutions, nobody has ever faced justice for the killings. Campaigners have identified Iran’s incoming president, Ebrahim Raisi, as a key figure in the operation.
The prosecution has fallen on the Swedish authorities under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows prosecutors to put anyone on trial for crimes against humanity regardless of where they were committed.
Mr Nouri’s lawyer in Sweden has previously told reporters that the arrest was a case of mistaken identity.