Former Iranian official sentenced by Swedish court for prison executions

On Thursday, a Swedish court found a former Iranian court official guilty of war crimes and murder and sentenced him to life in prison for his role in the mass executions and torture of thousands of prisoners in Iran decades ago.

Official Hamid Nuri, a former assistant deputy prosecutor at the Gohardasht prison west of Tehran, was lured to Sweden in 2019 and immediately arrested. Two years later, he was charged with involvement in the deaths of nearly 5,000 prisoners in the summer of 1988, in one of the Islamic Republic’s most brutal crackdowns on its opponents.

This landmark decision, which was the first time that an Iranian official was prosecuted in a foreign country for crimes committed on Iranian soil, brought victory to human rights and Iranian opposition groups, as well as to the families of the victims.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was sitting on committee of three who at that time interrogated the prisoners and ultimately decided which of them to send to their deaths.

The court proceeded according to the principle universal jurisdiction, which allows any national court to prosecute atrocities no matter where they are committed. In January a german court convicted a Syrian intelligence officer of crimes against humanity under the same law.

Families of the victims and human rights activists gathered outside the courthouse on Thursday, and when the verdict was announced, they cried, cheered and hugged each other, according to those present. Some said they had not slept the night before while waiting for the court’s decision.

Omid Montazeri, a 36-year-old BBC Persian reporter, was 2 years old when his father was executed. Standing outside the courthouse when the verdict was announced, he called his mother.

“I cried, she cried. The first word I said to her was “forever” which meant he got life. All the stories we carried and told were finally tested and accepted as the truth,” Mr. Montazeri in a telephone interview.

The families then held a “Justice Celebration” party.

“Everyone was in tears, tears of joy. We looked at each other in disbelief, hugged each other and smiled a lot. It was the Islamic Republic on trial, not just Nuri,” said Roya Borumand, executive director of the Abdorrahman Borumand Center, a Washington-based documentation and advocacy group focused on human rights in Iran.

Iran condemned the verdict, calling it a political decision and said it would damage relations with Sweden.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran strongly condemns this political statement based on fabricated and baseless accusations against the Islamic Republic and our judiciary,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said in a statement shortly after the verdict was announced.

The case heightened tensions between Sweden and Iran, with Iran saying in May that apply for dual citizenship Iranian-Swedish scientist Ahmadreza Jalali is accused of spying and aiding Israel in the murder of nuclear scientists. mr. Jalali denied the allegations.

Judge Thomas Zander said a court in Stockholm found that Mr. Nuri committed “serious violations of international law” by sentencing him to life in prison, although in Sweden that means he will serve a minimum of 18 years. mr. Nuri can appeal against the verdict and sentence, and if and when he is released, he will be expelled from the country.

During the 92 days of the trial, prosecutors tried to prove that Mr. Nuri participated in the murder of sympathizers in 1988. Mujahideen Hulk, known as the MEK, an armed militia that was previously considered a terrorist group by the US and fought with Iraq against the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq War. It aims to overthrow the Iranian leadership.

The prosecutor’s office presented evidence that he selected prisoners to be committed to the firing squad, escorted them along the so-called corridor of death and provided the committee with information about the prisoners.

According to prosecutors, he accompanied prisoners to the gallows and even sometimes participated in executions.

According to Human Rights Watchthe Gohardasht prison killings were part of a larger crackdown in which the Iranian authorities, acting on the orders of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, executed up to 5,000 prisoners in at least 32 cities across the country.

The executions came shortly after the Iraq-based MEK carried out an operation in Iran aimed at overthrowing the Iranian government. The operation failed and executions soon followed, leading to the decision many years later to file war crimes charges. Nuri.

Iraj Mesdagi, writer, human rights activist, Gohardasht prison survivor now living in Sweden, and Mr. Nuri’s ex-son-in-law lured Mr. Nuri to Sweden and then alerted the Swedish authorities. He was detained when he arrived at the airport.

mr. Mesdagi, 62, who endured 10 years in three prisons because of his MEK links, spent decades gathering evidence and investigating the 1988 abuses. He was released in 1991, but one of his cousins ​​was executed.

In 1994, Mesdagi fled Iran with his wife, also a surviving political prisoner, and their newborn son. They were granted asylum in Sweden. As a key witness, Mr. Mesdagi’s testimony helped prosecutors understand how the prison system worked and looked, prosecutor Christina Lindhoff Carleson said. He witnessed Mr. Nuri’s cruelty first hand.

“I saw how he chose the prisoners who appeared before the commission,” he said. Mesdagi said.

Shadi Sadr, a London-based human rights lawyer, said the ruling establishes the truth about the crimes, which Iranian authorities have always denied.

“Now a court in another country where human rights and the rule of law reigns recognizes the fact that systematic and mass killings of prisoners took place in Iran,” she said.

The case tested the limits of the principle of universal jurisdiction, said Mark Klumberg, professor of international law at Stockholm University and one of the expert witnesses at the trial.

“Sweden and many other countries are hesitant to arrest people who are there on a short visit,” he said. Clamberg said. But that verdict, he added, will encourage countries to act when people suspected of criminal activity enter their territory, making life difficult for people like Mr. Trump. Nuri travel.

“This is a big problem for the Iranian government,” he said.