Cracks appear in Iranian regime’s cover-up of its crimes
The chief of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, this week left Iran without reaching a deal on an inspections regime. But the Islamic Republic is not only covering up its nuclear weapons ambitions — for more than three decades, the extremist theocracy has tried to cover up one of its most serious crimes against humanity.
In what became known as the 1988 massacre, the Tehran regime carried out the systematic killing of thousands of dissidents and opposition activists. Ultimately, an estimated 30,000 people lost their lives in the brutal massacre. But a court in Sweden now appears to be ending the regime’s cover-up.
In November 2019, the Swedish authorities arrested a man, Hamid Noury, who is believed to have been involved in the 1988 massacre. In July, after 21 months of investigation, prosecutors at Stockholm District Court issued an indictment against him. His trial began the following month and a verdict is expected in April next year. Over the course of the investigations and trial, members and supporters of the opposition group the National Council of Resistance of Iran, who were witnesses to Noury’s alleged crimes, gave evidence to the Swedish authorities, including providing significant documentation. Most of the 35 plaintiffs in Noury’s case were supporters of the opposition. Many claim to have witnessed him in the so-called “death corridor” at Gohardasht Prison, where prisoners were lined up to be taken to the execution hall.
Noury was said to have been involved in brutal torture and, on some occasions, personally participated in the executions
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
It is believed that thousands of political prisoners were massacred in Gohardasht Prison in the summer of 1988 based on a fatwa (religious decree) issued by then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini. None of the victims had been sentenced to death but were summarily hanged because they remained steadfast in their beliefs and democratic ideals. Members of the opposition made up the overwhelming majority of the 30,000 victims, particularly because they advocated a democratic and tolerant reading of Islam that contradicted the extremist mullahs’ fundamentalist ideology. For this reason, many legal experts view the 1988 massacre to be a case of genocide.
The Swedish court this month temporarily moved Noury’s trial to Albania to hear from seven members of the opposition who reside at the Ashraf 3 camp, near the town of Durres. Presiding Judge Radmannen Tomas Zander said: “Given the importance of these testimonies for the case, all the six judges, two prosecutors, lawyers for the plaintiffs, will all go to Albania.” The detailed and graphic testimonies of the seven witnesses from Ashraf 3, who gave first-hand information about the atrocities and mass executions that occurred in Gohardasht, shocked the court.
It is intriguing that the proceedings were widely reported by the media, including several Farsi-language satellite channels that broadcast into Iran. The evidence and accounts provided by the witnesses were extraordinarily grim and disturbing. Noury was said to have been involved in brutal torture and, on some occasions, personally participated in the executions.
Noury’s trial focuses purely on events in Gohardasht Prison because that is where he is accused of participating in the systematic killings. But it is likely the 1988 massacre was being conducted in prisons across the country, including the infamous Evin Prison in Tehran. This is why families of the victims are advocating for a broader investigation into the events of 1988, particularly by the UN.
In fact, their advocacy has recently garnered wider attention and focus, particularly after one of the main alleged perpetrators of the 1988 massacre, Ebrahim Raisi, was in August installed as Iran’s new president. Amnesty International’s Secretary-General Agnes Callamard said in June: “That Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran.” She claimed that Raisi was “a member of the ‘death commission’ which forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially executed in secret thousands of political dissidents in Evin and Gohardasht prisons near Tehran in 1988.”
This case is so significant that Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian raised serious concerns about it in a meeting with his Swedish counterpart on the fringes of the UN General Assembly in September. He said that the opposition had “fabricated” the evidence. Similar claims will likely be made by Noury himself next week, when he is due to give evidence. Noury will no doubt attempt to justify the crimes he committed by trying to tarnish the NCRI’s image.
It is now incumbent on the media and the international community to ensure that the basic demand of thousands of families who lost loved ones during the 1988 massacre is fulfilled by holding the main perpetrators accountable for their crimes against humanity, particularly Raisi and current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh