The fifth day of former Iranian prison official Hamid Noury’s own testimony at his trial in Sweden took place on Wednesday, as he answered questions from Swedish prosecutors in regards to his role in the 1988 massacre in Iran. As a prison officer, he was responsible for leading political prisoners to their deaths at the gallows in Gohardasht Prison.
Noury’s defense flipped between denial of basic facts of the case and acknowledging the crimes of the Iranian regime. Prior to him giving his own testimony, the case had been temporarily expedited to Albania to hear from witnesses who were former political prisoners during Noury’s time working at Gohardasht Prison, an establishment that Noury vehemently denied ever existed. He also referred to the massacre as a ‘made up and undocumented’ event.
Noury’s remarks reflect the inherent secrecy of Iran’s judicial system, not any serious dispute about the severity or focus of the massacre.
Over the years, the Iranian Resistance has uncovered details of the massacre and identified sites of mass graves where the victims were hastily buried. As these mass graves are evidence of the atrocities that took place during the summer of 1988, the Iranian regime has desperately tried to cover them up by ordering construction projects to take place on those sites.
The massacre took place following a fatwa issued by then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini that ordered the executions of dissidents, most notable supporters of the Iranian Resistance group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). In his testimony, Noury claimed that the fatwa had been fabricated in order to defame the regime, however, many regime officials stated that Khomeini had personally issued the order stating that the MEK was an ‘enmity against God’.
Despite his attempts to dispute the nature of Khomeini’s fatwa, Noury’s further testimony communicated very similar devotion to its contents. Much of his time before the Stockholm court involved praising regime authorities and maligning the MEK, while also emphasizing the strength of the conflict between the two.
Noury claimed that the mere mention of the MEK would permit him to be arrested upon entrance to Iran and detained. He even told the prosecutor to avoid mentioning the Resistance group or it would create problems for him later.
The former prison official also spoke freely about the use of solitary confinement and white torture as forms of extrajudicial punishment, noting that both this and flogging were common strategies for dealing with inmates who flouted prison guidelines, communicated with one another using Morse code, or gathered in groups for athletics or for prayers.
Within the last few months, a number of legal scholars have argued that the religious motive behind the mass executions means that the massacre can be identified as an act of genocide. The conferences, where the discussions took place, came about in response to this year’s presidential campaign in Iran, and later the ‘election’ of the regime’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi.
Raisi’s installation was part of a process whereby Khamenei has consolidated power among ultra-hardline figures, including participants in the 1988 massacre. Raisi’s participation occurred at the highest level, as he was one of four officials to serve on the Tehran death commission, which had jurisdiction over Evin and Gohardasht Prisons.
Amnesty International spoke out in June following the announcement that Raisi would become the regime’s president and said that the fact that Raisi has been allowed to become president instead of being held accountable for his history of human rights abuses is a “grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran.”
When Noury’s trial began in August, it became the first threat to the regime’s impunity. It highlighted that the massacre can be subject to ‘universal jurisdiction’, meaning that serious violations of international law can be tried and prosecuted in any court around the world.