Iranian defendant rejects ‘lies’ linking him to 1988 prison massacre

Hamid Nouri is accused of war crimes and the murder of more than 100 dissidents

Protesters gather outside Stockholm district court as Hamid Nouri gives evidence during his trial. EPA
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A former prison official accused of organising mass killings during a 1988 massacre of Iranian inmates said the charges against him were all "lies", as he started four days of evidence at a landmark trial.

Hamid Nouri, 60, is accused of war crimes and the murder of more than 100 dissidents who were killed after brief appearances before a "death committee" at the prison where he worked at the end of the Iran-Iraq war.

“I have only four days to respond to all the lies that have been told to the Iranian people,” he said, in an opening statement to 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.”

Prosecutors say Mr Nouri was assistant to the deputy prosecutor at Gohardasht prison in Karaj, near Tehran, in July and August, when officials carried out the orders of supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini to hang members of the People's Mujahideen of Iran (MEK).

The group had supported the 1979 revolution but turned against the clerics and ultimately sided with Saddam Hussein during the eight-year war.

Rights groups say that about 5,000 people were killed during the massacre of those who failed to renounce their allegiance to the group.

Members of MEK, which now has its powerbase in Albania, protested outside the courtroom while Mr Nouri gave evidence.

Mr Nouri, who was arrested after flying to Sweden in 2019, is the first member of the regime to stand trial over the massacre. Iranian officials also targeted left-wing opponents of the regime during several months of terror at prisons across Iran.

Mr Nouri's alleged role included organising hangings, gathering names and taking prisoners before a four-strong death committee who pronounced the verdicts.

Amnesty International in 2018 said the committee is believed to have included a young prosecutor who later became the head of the judiciary and, finally this year, President Ebrahim Raisi.

MEK activists had called for his arrest over the massacre if he travelled to the UN climate change summit in Glasgow earlier this month, but he did not attend.

Mr Nouri has claimed that he was not at the prison at the time of the killings. A mock-up of the jail has been set up in the courtroom.

“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.

The trial started in August and has heard from witnesses in Sweden and last week in Albania, who say they saw Mr Nouri at the prison.

One former prisoner, Reza Fallahi, has previously told The National how Mr Nouri was “laughing and very happy” when 64 prisoners were called down to death row at the jail.

Another former prisoner, London-based Ahmad Ebrahimi, said before the trial: “I knew him at that time because it was a critical moment in my life. I knew him from before and I knew his voice. Still now, his voice is in my ears all the time.”

Sweden's principle of universal jurisdiction means that its courts can try a person on serious charges such as murder or war crimes, regardless of where the alleged offences took place.

Prosecutor Kristina Lindhoff Carleson has accused Mr Nouri of “intentionally taking the life of a very large number of prisoners sympathetic to or belonging to the People's Mujahideen”, as well as others considered opponents of the state.

Updated: November 23, 2021, 2:26 PM