Swedish murder trial could shed light on Iran’s new president
He was a 28-year-old student and member of a Communist group in Iran serving a 10-year prison sentence in 1988 when, according to his family, he was called before a committee and executed without trial or defense.
Family members said they had not obtained the body, will or the location of a burial site. They received a sports bag with a wristwatch, a shirt and a certificate that did not specify execution as the cause of death.
The student, Bijan Bazargan, was among some 5,000 prisoners belonging to armed opposition and left-wing groups in Iran who, according to Amnesty International and other rights groups, were executed during the summer 1988.
Now, a Swedish court will prosecute a former Iranian justice official for war crimes and murder in connection with Mr. Bazargan’s death. The case has particularly public and damaging implications for Iran’s President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, who helped decide which prisoners lived or died during these mass executions.
The accused, Hamid Noury, 59, was indicted on Tuesday in Sweden under what is known as the principle of universal jurisdiction, a principle of international law that theoretically allows any national court to try those accused of crimes serious, regardless of where they were committed. engaged.
His trial begins on August 10 – less than a week after Mr. Raisi took office nearly 3,000 miles away in Tehran. The trial, which is set to last until next April, risks exposing new details about Mr Raisi’s role – a period in history he has sought to downplay or ignore.
Mr. Noury served as assistant to the deputy prosecutor at Gohardacht prison where Mr. Bazargan and hundreds of prisoners were sent to the gallows.
Mass executions represent one of the Islamic Republic’s most brutal and opaque repressions against its opponents. International rights groups say they constitute crimes against humanity.
“Some people tell us to forgive and forget, but we can’t,” said Laleh Bazargan, sister of Mr Bazargan, a 51-year-old pharmacist who emigrated to Sweden and lives in Stockholm. “The truth must come out, for reasons of closure and accountability.”
Mr. Raisi, 60, was a member of the four-person committee that interrogated prisoners and issued execution orders. Mr Raisi said he was acting under the leadership of the founding father of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had ordered the formation of a committee to facilitate the executions.
Allegations about Mr. Raisi’s work on this committee followed him until his rise in the Iranian hierarchy, where he had been head of the judiciary before the June elections which brought him to the top. presidency. Amnesty International has called for a formal investigation into Mr. Raisi’s past.
While Mr Raisi will benefit from diplomatic immunity if he travels abroad as the country’s president, Sweden’s case could, at the very least, present him with a vexatious optical problem as he is about to engage with the world.
The United States, which put Mr. Raisi on a sanctions list two years ago for violating his rights, is obliged to grant him a visa as a United Nations host country if he wishes to attend the assembly general in New York in September. Despite this, six Republican senators have called on President Biden to deny Mr. Raisi and other senior Iranian officials visas for this rally, the world’s largest diplomatic scene.
The Iranian mission to the United Nations said through a spokesperson that it had no comment on the trial in Sweden and that Mr. Raisi’s travel plans for the General Assembly remained unclear in due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But Mr. Raisi must speak at the event, in person or virtually.
The case against Mr. Noury appeared to make him the first Iranian defendant in a criminal prosecution that invokes the principle of universal jurisdiction. Iranian officials and agents have been convicted in Germany, France and most recently in Belgium for assassinations and terrorism-related plots inside those countries – but never for crimes committed in Iran, legal experts have said .
“The trial is extremely important in breaking Iran’s cycle of impunity abroad for officials accused of serious human rights violations,” said Shadi Sadr, a prominent human rights lawyer in London.
Announcing the charges against Mr Noury, Swedish prosecutor Kristina Lindhoff Carleson said that “the extensive investigation which led to this indictment shows that even though these acts were committed outside Swedish territory and more than three decades ago, they could be the subject of legal proceedings. legal proceedings in Sweden.
The prosecutor’s statement said the accused was suspected of participating in mass executions, willfully killing prisoners and subjecting them to torture and inhuman treatment. Such actions, the Swedish authorities said, violated the Geneva Conventions.
The prisoners were mostly members of an armed opposition group, the Mujahedeen Khalq, now widely known as the MEK, and leftist political groups. Human rights activists said most of the executed prisoners were not convicted of capital crimes and were serving prison terms.
Mr. Noury was arrested at Stockholm airport when he arrived to visit his family in 2019. Activists learned of his travel plans and alerted the authorities, who refused his release. under caution. They began an investigation, interviewing dozens of family members of the victims, survivors and Iranian human rights activists who had for years recorded testimonies and details of the mass executions.
Mr Noury’s lawyer told Swedish media he denies the charges and that authorities arrested the wrong man.
The Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, a Washington-based Iranian rights group named after a pro-democracy Iranian lawyer assassinated in 1991, published a report in 2010 on the 1988 mass executions. The report was prepared by a UK based lawyer who headed an international tribunal on the civil war in Sierra Leone.
Roya Boroumand, a daughter of Mr Boroumand, the foundation’s executive director, said her subsequent investigation showed that Mr Noury, known by the pseudonym Hamid Abbasi, had been the right-hand man of the deputy prosecutor of Gohardacht prison .
She said Mr. Noury and others like him played an active role in interrogating the prisoners, preparing the list of names for the so-called death committee, and then escorting the prisoners. Listed out of their cells blindfolded down a dark hallway to a room where the committee of members, including Mr. Raisi, questioned them.
The committee questioned the prisoners about their political beliefs and their willingness to condemn their comrades and express their allegiance to the Islamic Republic. The committee often made a decision on the spot as to whether the prisoners were alive, Ms Boroumand said.
“The importance of the Swedish case is not about one person, but about the Islamic Republic’s trial,” Boroumand said. “It is coming back to haunt them and I hope it will prevent the repetition of such crimes.”
The mass executions took place in Evin prison in Tehran and in Gohardasht prison in Karaj, about 20 kilometers west of Tehran. In Gohardacht, convicts were hanged from pipes in an adjacent area known as Hosseiniyeh, which is generally used for religious ceremonies and prayers. The bodies were buried in mass graves in secret locations.
About thirty plaintiffs, including Mr. Bazargan’s sister, are expected to testify against Mr. Noury at the trial in Sweden.
Ms. Bazargan said she thinks of her brother every day. She was 13 when he was arrested at 23 and had been allowed to visit him once a year until his execution five years later.
In an interview, she recalled him as a protective and caring older brother, taking him to the movies and restaurants, giving him advice on school and friends.
For many years, Ms Bazargan said, she had imagined what she would say if she came face to face with one of those suspected of being responsible for her execution.
This day is now scheduled for October 19 in a courtroom in Stockholm.
“I want to look him in the eye and say ‘Speak’ to him,” Ms. Bazargan said. “Talk about what you did. Talk about what you did to him. Talk about how you killed so many people.