July verdict for Iranian ex-official in Sweden war crimes trial

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A landmark trial against a former Iranian prison official accused of war crimes during a 1988 purge of dissidents wrapped up in Sweden on Wednesday, with a verdict due in July.

The proceedings marked the first time an Iranian official has gone on trial for the purge.

Hamid Noury, 61, faces charges including crimes against humanity and war crimes for his role in the killing of as many as 5,000 prisoners across Iran, allegedly ordered by supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

The killings were revenge for attacks carried out by the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), an exiled opposition group, at the end of the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88.

Last week, prosecutors called for a life sentence for Noury, who has been on trial in Stockholm district court since August 2021.

“It’s ironic, because I was witness to many of my friends being sentenced to death in one-minute trials in Iran. How different it is here”, Ramadan Fathi, a former prisoner who testified against Noury, told AFP.

On Wednesday, the final day of the trial, the judge set the date for the verdict on July 14.

“I hope these hands will be cleared… with the help of God,” Noury told the court, his palms raised to the sky and holding a Koran.

“Friends, I love you, I’m not angry at you”, he told those present in the courtroom, his remarks in Farsi translated into Swedish by a court-appointed interpreter.

The defence had contested Sweden’s principle of universal jurisdiction — which allows it to try the case regardless of where the offences took place — and called into question the plaintiffs’ testimony.

“There is a lot of uncertainty about the way in which the name Hamid Noury arose in the testimonies”, Daniel Marcus, one of Noury’s two lawyers, told the court, calling the evidence “insufficient”.

– ‘Small, small holes’ –

According to the prosecution and survivors who testified against him, Noury was assistant to the deputy prosecutor of Gohardasht prison near Tehran at the time of the events.

He allegedly handed down death sentences, brought prisoners to the execution chamber and helped prosecutors gather prisoners’ names.

Noury has argued that he was on leave during the period in question, and said he worked in another prison, not the Gohardasht one.

Noury was arrested at a Stockholm airport in November 2019 after Iranian dissidents in Sweden filed police complaints against him.

Throughout the nine-month trial, which briefly relocated to Albania to hear some testimony at the end of 2021, MEK supporters protested loudly outside the Stockholm courthouse.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Kenneth Lewis, said the evidence in the case was “overwhelming”.

The defence “tried to find small, small holes, but in my opinion, they weren’t very comfortable” in their argument.

A lawyer representing the MEK expressed however concern that Noury — who is currently held in custody pending the verdict — would flee Sweden if acquitted, before an appeal could be lodged.

Fathi, the former prisoner, said meanwhile he was “very happy to see with my own eyes” someone from the regime facing justice.

“Now that we’ve reached the end of this trial, I hope a day comes very soon when the entire leaders of this regime, perpetrators of this massacre, are brought to justice here or elsewhere.”

The trial has rendered Stockholm’s already chilly relations with Tehran even frostier.

Iran summoned the Swedish ambassador last week, the same day the prosecutor in Stockholm called for a life sentence against Noury.

According to a statement published on the Iranian foreign ministry’s website, Iran’s foreign minister also called his Swedish counterpart Ann Linde.

“Iran considers the arrest and trial process of an Iranian citizen, Hamid Noury, as illegal and demands his immediate release,” Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was quoted as saying during the conversation.

Amir-Abdollahian also lamented that a “terrorist group,” referring to the MEK, had taken over the trial through a “deceptive campaign”.

The Swedish foreign ministry has meanwhile advised its nationals against non-essential travel to Iran.

According to the Iranian news agency Isna, Iran plans to execute Swedish-Iranian academic Ahmadreza Djalali, who was sentenced to death in 2017 for spying for Israel, before May 21.