Sweden's landmark war crimes trial of Hamid Nouri wraps up ahead of jury verdict

Defendant is accused of being involved in the killing of 5,000 prisoners in Iran during the 1980s

Protesters outside Stockholm District Court during Hamid Noury's trial.  EPA
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Sweden’s historic trial of an Iranian man accused of playing a central role in the execution of thousands of prisoners has wrapped up, with a verdict expected in July.

Hamid Nouri, 61, a former prison official and prosecutor, faces charges including crimes against humanity and war crimes over the killing of as many as 5,000 prisoners in Iran. The mass killing were allegedly ordered by supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Nouri is accused of torture and inhuman treatment in the landmark proceedings – the first time an Iranian official has gone on trial for the purge.

Tehran described the trial as illegal and this week summoned the Swedish envoy over the matter.

Prosecutors last week called for a life sentence for Nouri, who has been on trial in Stockholm district court since August 2021. He was arrested at Stockholm airport in November 2019 after Iranian dissidents in Sweden filed police complaints against him.

On Wednesday, the final day of the trial, the judge set July 14 as the date for the verdict.

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 1980-1988.

Ramadan Fathi, a former prisoner who testified against Noury, said the lengthy trial is a far cry from Iran’s legal system.

"It's ironic, because I was witness to many of my friends being sentenced to death in one-minute trials in Iran. How different it is here,” he told AFP.

Nouri clutched a Quran and raised his palms as he told the court on Wednesday, "I hope these hands will be cleared ... with the help of God.”

In comments translated from Farsi, he told those present in the courtroom: "Friends, I love you, I'm not angry at you".

The defence contested Sweden's principle of universal jurisdiction – which allows it to try the case regardless of where the offences took place – and called into question the plaintiffs' testimonies.

"There is a lot of uncertainty about the way in which the name Hamid Nouri arose in the testimonies", Daniel Marcus, one of Nouri’s two lawyers, told the court. He described the evidence as insufficient.

The defendant was assistant to the deputy prosecutor of Gohardasht prison near Tehran at the time of the killings, according to the prosecution and testimonies given by survivors.

They allege he handed down death sentences, escorted prisoners to the execution chamber and helped prosecutors gather prisoners’ names.

Nouri claimed that he was on leave during the period in question, and said he worked in another prison, not the Gohardasht jail.

The nine-month trial briefly relocated to Albania to hear some testimony at the end of 2021. Throughout the proceedings, MEK supporters have protested outside the Stockholm courthouse.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Kenneth Lewis, said the evidence in the case was overwhelming.

The defence "tried to find small, small holes, but in my opinion, they weren't very comfortable" in their argument, he said.

A lawyer representing the MEK expressed concern that Nouri – who is in custody pending the verdict – would flee Sweden if acquitted, before an appeal could be lodged.

The trial has worsened Sweden’s already frosty relationship with Iran.

Hossein Amir-Abdollahia, Iran’s foreign minister, was scathing about the trial in a conversation with his Swedish counterpart, Ann Linde.

He told her Tehran considers Nouri’s trial “illegal” and “demands his immediate release”, according to a statement on the Iranian foreign ministry’s website.

The Swedish foreign ministry has meanwhile advised its citizens against non-essential travel to Iran.

Updated: May 05, 2022, 9:58 AM