Sweden charges Hamid Nouri with historic Iran war crimes

Charges relate to the 1988 massacre of thousands of prisoners in Iranian jails

A memorial has been created in honor of the execution of 30,000 political prisoners by the Iranian regime in 1988.   (Photo by Gent SHKULLAKU  /  AFP)
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Prosecutors in Sweden have charged a man with murder and war crimes relating to the 1988 massacre of thousands of prisoners in Iranian jails.

Iranian lawyer Hamid Nouri held the role of assistant to the deputy prosecutor at the Gohardasht prison in Karaj, Iran, at the time of the massacre.

Sweden arrested Mr Nouri in 2019 under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows prosecutors to put anyone on trial for crimes against humanity wherever they were committed.

On Tuesday, prosecutors said the charges relate to an order given by the former Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, in 1988, to execute all prisoners held in Iranian prisons who sympathised with the People’s Mujahedin Organisation of Iran.

It led to prisoners being executed between July 30 and August 16, 1988, in Gohardasht prison.

According to the indictment, Mr Nouri is suspected of participating, together with other perpetrators, in the mass executions, and of intentionally taking the lives of a large number of prisoners who sympathised with the Mujahedin, and of subjecting prisoners to severe suffering.

“War crimes are considered to be some of the most serious criminal acts, not only within our national legislation, but also within the international law,” said prosecutor Kristina Lindhoff Carleson.

“These types of crimes are regarded as so grave that, irrespective of who committed them or where they were committed, national courts are able and obligated to conduct proceedings where necessary.

“Therefore, legal proceedings can be initiated also in Sweden, due to international obligations and the principle of universal jurisdiction.

“This extensive investigation resulting in this indictment shows that even though these acts were committed beyond Sweden’s territory and more than three decades ago, they can be subject to legal proceedings in Sweden.”

Victims, witnesses and experts from across the world will attend a trial in August which is expected to continue until April next year.

The Swedish authorities were alerted to Mr Nouri after he was named in a dossier compiled by former political prisoner Iraj Mesdaghi and UK-based lawyer Kaveh Moussavi.

They had learnt that Mr Nouri was planning to travel to Sweden to resolve a family dispute and when he landed at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport in November 2019 he was arrested.

Mr Moussavi previously told The National he has lobbied prosecutors in Europe and elsewhere to arrest 17 other current and former officials said to be implicated in crimes covering more than 40 years from 1978.

'Conga-line' to the gallows

In 2011, human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson published a 142-page report into the prison killings after being commissioned by the US-based Abdorrahman Boroumand Centre, which has compiled evidence and witness statements of survivors.

He said three-man death committees identified thousands of dissidents in its prisons and ordered the deaths of those who failed in their tests of loyalty to the regime.

Those selected were blindfolded and “ordered to join a conga-line that led straight to the gallows”, he said.

“They were hung from cranes, four at a time, or in groups of six from ropes hanging from the front of the stage in an assembly hall; some were taken to army barracks at night, directed to make their wills and then shot by firing squad.”

Their bodies were doused with disinfectant and buried at night in secret mass graves, he said.

Of the horrors perpetrated since the end of the Second World War, the killing of thousands of prisoners in Iranian jails in 1988 ranks among the worst, Mr Robertson said.

Updated: July 27, 2021, 1:39 PM