I warn every commanding officer of the IRGC-you issue an order to fire on civilians, we will identify and immediately proceed to issue International Arrest Warrants against you. You have been warned! Cease and desist forthwith. Abandon this criminal regime and join the people.https://mobile.twitter.com/KavehMoussavi/status/1196580887632207876
IRGC snatching bodies of murdered from hospital morgues and organising secret burials. This constitutes a continuing crime in International Criminal Law. As soon as the culprits are identified, I shall draft indictments and obtain International Arrest Warrants.https://mobile.twitter.com/PhilipGrant40/status/1194588394841661440
BREAKING: arrest made in #Sweden in 1988 prison massacre in #Iran.https://www.rferl.org/a/iranian-national-detained-sweden-1988-mass-executions/30269703.html
An Iranian citizen has been remanded in custody in Sweden on suspicion of carrying out crimes against humanity and murder in the late 1980s in Iran. https://iranwire.com/en/features/6436
Swedish Prosecutor Karolina Wieslander said on November 13 that the unidentified man was suspected of committing the crimes between July 28, 1988, and August 31, 1988, in Tehran. The prosecutor did not elaborate.
His lawyer, Lars Hultgren, told the Swedish news agency TT that the man insists he is innocent, adding "they have taken the wrong guy."
The 58-year-old man was reportedly arrested on November 9 at Stockholm’s international airport.
Sweden-based activist Iraj Mesdaghi and human rights lawyer Kaveh Moussavi told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that they have documents proving that the man served as a judge at the Gohardasht prison on the outskirts of the city of Karaj west of the capital Tehran.
They claim that the man had played an "active role" in the 1988 mass executions of political prisoners, during which several thousand members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), leftist groups, students, and others were executed in Iran's prisons in what Amnesty International describes as "a coordinated effort to eliminate political opposition."
Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, called the arrest an “important first step towards justice for the 1988 massacre.”
“This would be the very first time that someone is charged in relation to the events,” Callamard tweeted.
The London-based rights group has called on the United Nations to establish an "independent, impartial and effective international mechanism" to help bring those responsible for the extrajudicial executions to justice.
Swedish authorities have jailed an Iranian prosecutor alleged to have played a role in the mass executions of prisoners in 1988 — one of the most shocking events in the history of the Islamic Republic. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-families-hope-for-answers-justice-after-arrest-of-iranian-accused-of/
Almost anybody who served time at Gohardasht Prison, also known as Rajaei Shahr, in the 1980s is familiar with Hamid Nouri, a pseudonym for Hamid Abbasi, who was an assistant prosecutor for the prison at the time.
According to testimonies from former Rajaei Shahr inmates, during the 1980s Nouri served on the prison’s “death panel” that decided which political prisoners were to be executed and when. “There were assistant prosecutors like Hamid Abbasi who testified before the committee,” writes Iraj Mesdaghi, a former political prisoner who has written extensively about Iranian political prisoners in the 1980s. “They were people who added fuel to the fire and tried to bring the panel to a consensus over the decision to execute.”
On November 13, Swedish authorities arrested Hamid Nouri in Stockholm by order of a Swedish court after a private plaintiff, Kaveh Mousavi, brought a case against him. Mousavi, a lawyer and arbitrator for the International Court of Arbitration, is also an Associate Research Fellow at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. Nouri has been charged with five counts, all of which are related to the 1980s massacre of political prisoners in Iran.
In 1988, toward the end of the Iran-Iraq War, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered the secret mass execution of thousands of Iranian political prisoners. Most were leftists, and many were members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization (MEK), which had sided with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq during the war. Acting on Khomeini’s behalf, a small group of high-ranking officials went into Iranian prisons and questioned prisoners — most of whom the judiciary had already sentenced to prison terms — about their religious and political affiliations. Those deemed unlikely to recommit themselves to Islam and Khomeini were sent in groups to be executed by hanging, and were then buried in secret.
The victims were buried in mass graves. Their families were not only not allowed to bury their loved ones, they were not informed of exactly where they had been buried.
Based on evidence and documents provided by Iraj Mesdaghi, the court in Stockholm has extended Nouri’s detention for four more weeks so that eyewitnesses can testify at the court.
“For months I kept his movements under surveillance,” Iraj Mesdaghi told IranWire. “He had traveled to Germany many times and this time he wanted to travel to Italy on a one-year visa. We had been planning for this for a long time and several lawyers in the UK, Germany and Sweden were kept informed. With the cooperation of Mr. Mousavi and the warrant from the Swedish prosecutor, he was arrested the moment he landed at Stockholm Arlanda Airport. We had enough evidence and documents to convince the Swedish judiciary and the prosecutor.”
Iraj Mesdaghi was not at the airport when Nouri was arrested, but he followed events as they unfolded and rushed to the court once Nouri was in custody. “It was a very important moment for us because he and others, like Mohammad Moghiseh, who was known in prison as ‘Naserian,’ played central roles in planning for the 1988 massacre. He was instrumental and serious in selecting the prisoners and prioritizing who appeared before the death panel. The judges in the death panel, of course, were not closely familiar with the prisoners, so this gentleman and Naserian presented the necessary justifications to the panel to convince them that the prisoners they had selected must be executed.”
“Hamid Nouri read the names of the prisoners and lined them up,” Mesdaghi remembers. “He then asked the guards to take them to their ward but the word ‘ward’ was actually code word for them to take the prisoner to the gallows. I myself had witnessed him many times in prison.”
Later, following up on Nouri, Iraj Mesdaghi found out that he was still active in Iranian political life and worked for the intelligence ministry. “He has close relations with [current head of the judiciary] Ebrahim Raeesi, [former intelligence minister] Ali Fallahian, [former justice minister] Mostafa Pourmohammadi and Judge Moghiseh and worked with the intelligence Ministry under the assumed names of Vahid and Abdollah.” Raeesi sat on the so-called death committee set up by Ayatollah Khomeini.
Mesdaghi was in court when the charges against Nouri were read but, under Swedish law, he was required to leave the courtroom when the charges were discussed in the presence of the prosecutor and his assistants. He was again present in court when the judge prepared to take the decision to extend Nouri’s arrest for another four weeks.
Isn’t Mesdaghi worried that the Iranian government will interfere and try to secure the freedom of the defendant, I asked? “Sweden has one of the highest standards of justice and has the necessary experience in handling cases like this,” said Mesdaghi. “Our evidence is very comprehensive and convincing.”
Kaveh Mousavi told IranWire that he had lodged the case against Nouri in memory of those who unjustly lost their lives in the 1980s.
Mousavi and his team led by Iraj Mesdaghi had expected Nouri to be arrested in Germany and had prepared everything for such an eventuality. But on the morning of November 9, Mesdaghi’s sources informed him that Nouri had suddenly changed his itinerary and was flying to Sweden. “After Mr. Hamid Nouri’s travel plans changed I had a limited time — only six hours on a weekend — to convince the Swedish prosecutor to arrest him,” Mousavi told me.
Mousavi said he had the help of a team of 18 lawyers. “Considering that in Sweden the assumption is that people are innocent until proven otherwise, I had told Mr. Mesdaghi to gather enough convincing evidence for his arrest and we succeeded in doing so,” he said.
Mousavi said crimes such as the 1988 mass executions are so extreme that they are not subject to the statute of limitations, which allows for events to be exempt from legal proceedings beyond a certain time. “Such crimes have a public aspect, meaning that they are not crimes against an individual but are considered crimes against humanity and can be prosecuted anywhere in the world. They are subject to judicial prosecution wherever humans live. War crimes, genocide and torture are among such crimes and are not subject to the statute of limitations. As a human being, as an Iranian and as a lawyer, I have always felt unhappy that those who were executed in the 1980s never received the due process of law and an impartial judgment.”
“The evidence was sent and I prepared my complaint,” Mousavi told me. “Now that we have reached this point I no longer insist to remain as a private plaintiff because many have announced that they want to join the suit or want to testify. Based on Swedish laws, I can either remain as a private plaintiff or leave the suit, in which case the Swedish government itself would follow the matter.”
The mass execution of political prisoners started after Operation Mersad, the last major military operation of the Iran-Iraq war in July 1988, which was a major victory for Iran. According to Mousavi, Nouri has now been charged with war crimes for his participation in the executions. “Many young prisoners who had no record of armed activities, who just supported a political movement and who were serving their prison sentences were executed en masse after this military operation that had nothing to do with them,” he says. “Even a prisoner of war has rights and must not be put to death, let alone somebody who was never involved in the war.”
Mousavi says that the Iranian embassy has hired expensive lawyers to defend Nouri. “We have gathered enough evidence so that they cannot get him off through legal maneuvers and by resorting to the statute of limitations,” Mousavi said. One charge Mousavi brought against Nouri was “making individuals disappear,” and he has argued that until the bodies of the missing individuals are found and identified by their families this charge remains valid and the defense of statute of limitations cannot apply. Even after so many years, the families of many victims of the 1988 massacre have yet to know how they died or where they have been buried.
Mousavi says that he is “101 percent” confident that Nouri will not be released by Sweden’s justice system.
An arrest thousands of kilometres away in Sweden is reverberating through the Iranian diaspora in Canada and giving hope to families who have waited 31 years to find out what happened to their relatives in Iran’s worst mass murder in modern history.
Last week, the Swedish Prosecution Authority announced the arrest of an Iranian man suspected of committing crimes against humanity and murder in July and August of 1988. He is being held in custody until Dec. 11, when prosecutors will have to decide whether to indict him.
As Iran was rocked again by internal unrest this weekend, with mass protests against the regime breaking out across the country, victims from a crackdown of political opponents more than three decades ago are getting their first glance at justice.
Lawyers for the civilian complainant allege that the suspect, identified as Hamid Nouri, was an assistant prosecutor in Iran’s extrajudicial tribunals, known as the death commissions, which sentenced approximately 5,000 political dissidents to death based solely on their political or religious beliefs.
It was a “religious inquisition,” said McGill University law professor Payam Akhavan, one of the lawyers for survivor and memoirist Iraj Mesdaghi, who alerted Swedish prosecutors.
“He was an enthusiastic inquisitor and in addition to sending people to their deaths he tortured some of them," Prof. Akhavan said of Mr. Nouri.
The accused’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment but, according to the Associated Press, lawyer Lars Hultgren told Sweden’s TT News Agency that his client denies the charges, adding, “They have taken the wrong guy.”
Representatives for the Iranian government also did not respond to requests for comment.
In 2013, Canada became the first country to recognize the killings as crimes against humanity, but until now none of the perpetrators has faced justice, which means families have little to no information about their relatives’ deaths or burials.
“It’s a very open wound for us,” Jafar Behkish said in an interview.
Two of his brothers and a brother-in-law were killed in the 1988 massacre. Mr. Behkish, who moved to Canada in 2002, said he wants to know exactly when they were killed and who ordered the killings. Not knowing has affected his family’s life “completely.”
Growing up in Iran, he was one of nine children. Five of them were killed at the hands of the regime in the first decade after the 1979 revolution.
“They killed them because they didn’t believe in Islam,“ Mr. Behkish said of his brothers.
For years the Iranian regime denied the mass murder, but after a grassroots fact-finding tribunal collected the details of the crimes in 2012, Tehran went from denial to defending them, Prof. Akhavan said. However, even with that admission, the little information the victims’ families have is from survivors, not from the government.
“One of the main characteristics of this massacre was total silence,” Mr. Behkish said.
Amnesty International calls the regime’s refusal to disclose how the victims died and where they are buried a continuing crime against humanity, and a breach of the “absolute prohibition of torture and other ill treatment by cruel practices."
The lack of closure has haunted Nina Toobaei’s family and left them unable to move on. For 17 years, she said, her parents waited for their son to come home. Only after reading Mr. Mesdaghi’s memoirs of the death commissions did they realize he would not return.
Ms. Toobaei, who also moved to Canada, said her brother survived the extrajudicial trials only to disappear three years later. The government has never disclosed what happened to him, but the last confirmed sighting of her brother is described in Mr. Mesdaghi’s memoirs, in prison.
“There is no closure for us,” Ms. Toobaei said through tears.
Mr. Nouri’s arrest has captured the attention of the international community. Philip Grant, the executive director of TRIAL International, which works to fight impunity for war crimes, said the case shows “the arm of justice can sometimes be long, even if belated.”
Because crimes such as the 1988 massacres don’t fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, Mr. Grant said there is a “huge impunity gap” that the universal jurisdiction principle, which Sweden is using in this case, can bridge.
The uncertainty surrounding Mr. Nouri’s case has Mr. Behkish tempering his expectations, but he said he hopes it will lead to accountability and information.
Ms. Toobaei said she hopes Mr. Nouri will decide to talk “instead of denying and lying.”
Former Canadian justice minister and Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, who co-sponsored Canada’s resolution on the killings with the late NDP MP Paul Dewar, said Canada’s role today should be to continue to “sound the alarm” and help establish an international tribunal on the crimes.
“Not only is it not over, not only were they never brought to justice then, but they’re continuing to commit the crimes today," Mr. Cotler said. “It’s an astonishing impunity.”