Krigsbrottslingen lockades till Sverige och dömdes – så gillrade Iraj Mesdaghi fällan
Iraj Mesdaghi torterades i åratal. Han var hårsmånen från att bli avrättad.
Krigsbrottslingen lockades till Sverige och dömdes – så gillrade Iraj Mesdaghi fällanPublicerad 07:01
"The years have passed but I have not been able to forget. I live, but my comrades were murdered. Those who took their lives must be held accountable," says Iraj Mesdaghi. He sprung the trap that lured tormentor Hamid Noury to Sweden - where he was convicted of war crimes. Photo: Paul Hansen, TT, Police
Next week, on January 11, the Svea Court of Appeal will take up the case against Hamid Noury. He is a 61-year-old Iranian citizen who on July 14, 2022 in the Stockholm district court was sentenced to life imprisonment for serious crimes against international law and for murder. The sentences date back to the mass executions carried out in Iranian prisons in the late summer of 1988.
An anonymous letter started the process that attracted Noury to Sweden.
- We were tempted by trips to European metropolises and with pretty girls, says Iraj Mesdaghi, plaintiff and key witness in the case.
The trial against Hamid Noury is historic and leads straight into Iran's power centers. The current president, Ebrahim Raisi, is named as one of the leaders of the so-called death committee, the body that made the final decision on which prisoners would live and which would die.
Arlanda on Saturday 9 November 2019, at 12.35. Iran Air's Airbus 330 from Tehran thumps down the runway, just under an hour late. A gray and chilly Stockholm receives the passengers.
But Hamid Noury doesn't care about the weather as he sits in his Business Class seat waiting to leave the plane. Noury, a tall man in his early fifties with a short-cropped gray beard, has so much else on his mind.
Hamid Noury landed on 9 November 2019 at Arlanda. He would mediate a dispute and go on pleasure trips - he thought. Instead, he was arrested by Swedish police and charged with murder and serious crimes against humanity.
Hamid Noury landed on 9 November 2019 at Arlanda. He would mediate a dispute and go on pleasure trips - he thought. Instead, he was arrested by Swedish police and charged with murder and serious crimes against humanity. Photo: The police
In Sweden, he has promised to mediate in a family dispute: a custody case between an Iranian woman whom Noury supports, and her ex-husband. But the trip is also about fun. During the roughly two weeks Hamid Noury is away from Iran, he will also take a cruise to Finland and visit Barcelona and Milan.
The woman's ex-husband, whom we can call Farhid, will be Noury's traveling companion. Farhid has been sending pictures of women through the encrypted messaging app WhatsApp.
But in one fell swoop, the dream trip comes crashing down. Hamid Noury is surrounded by four uniformed policemen as he gets off the plane. He is taken out via one of Arlanda's side exits and transported to the police station on Kungsholmen in Stockholm.
During the roughly three years that have passed since his arrest, Hamid Noury has been in custody. He has been charged with some of the most serious crimes on the criminal scale, underwent a marathon trial and was finally sentenced to life.
What happened to Hamid Noury? How could what was supposed to be an exciting European adventure end with the law's most severe punishment?
After a working day of executions, Hamid Noury could come to us prisoners in what was called the 'death corridor' - he smiled and offered sweets
To gain greater clarity, we head to Kista in northwest Stockholm. Iraj Mesdaghi lives in a three-room apartment in a run-down multi-million program house. He set the trap for Hamid Noury.
The Stockholm district court considered that there was convincing evidence that Noury was involved in extrajudicial executions of hundreds of political prisoners in Iran in the summer of 1988.
- After a working day of executions, Hamid Noury was able to come to us prisoners who were sitting in the part of the prison called the "death corridor". He smiled and offered sweets and cookies. As if he had been part of something festive and wanted to share the joy with us.
Luck and coincidence meant that Iraj Mesdaghi got the grain of one of the men who tormented him during his prison time. The man, Hamid Noury, was lured to Sweden.
Iraj Mesdaghi leans back on the sofa in the combined living and study room. He has reached the age of 62, but looks like a little boy as he sits in the corner of the sofa with his legs drawn up under him.
In the proceedings in the Stockholm district court, he has been one of the main witnesses against Hamid Noury. Over 30 years earlier, in Tehran in the summer of 1988, the roles were reversed. Iraj Mesdaghi sat on the accused's bench. Hamid Noury was the referees' henchman.
Mesdaghi was one of tens of thousands of Iranians whom the regime accused of subversive activities and therefore ended up in prison.
In 1988, the Iranian Revolution was approaching its tenth anniversary. It was in early 1979 that a motley collection of Iranian ethnic groups came together to overthrow the shah (king): radical students, bazaar vendors and artisans, religious country folk.
The Persian monarchy has a multi-thousand-year history. The Shah's elevation was symbolized by the magnificent peacock throne. But even before the revolution, the ground had begun to shake under Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.
The Swiss-educated shah wanted to rapidly modernize Iran. But the zeal for progress went awry. Large social groups felt neglected. And the shah suppressed dissent with the help of his dreaded secret police, Savak, and with military support from the United States.
Shortly after the fall of the shah in January 1979, a power struggle broke out between the revolutionaries. The circle around Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the supreme leader of the Shia Muslims, took control. They turned Iran into a theocracy, a God-state where religion is above politics.
Many Iranians thought that their country had become a religious dictatorship with almost fascist oppression. While Khomeini's followers regarded Iran as a Shia Islamic model country that must be defended against "infidels".
Hamid Noury together with one of his lawyers, Thomas Söderqvist. during the district court proceedings. Illustration: Anders Humlebo/TT
Hamid Noury can easily be counted among Khomeini's supporters. The preliminary investigation shows that he assisted a deputy prosecutor who was stationed at the large Gohardasht prison, located in Karaj just northwest of the capital Tehran.
Noury has no legal training, but was nevertheless given great powers, according to the investigation: he would select which prisoners would be brought before the so-called "death committee", a court-like commission. The committee members decided whether the prisoners would be allowed to live or die.
It was also Noury who, according to the verdict, ordered the prisoners out of the cells to the "death corridor". There they had to sit while waiting to be brought before the committee.
"I haven't been able to forget - I'm alive, but my comrades were murdered"
Hamid Noury also provided committee members with information about the prisoners, and read out the names of those to be executed.
- The years have passed but I have not been able to forget. I didn't want to forget. I live, but my comrades were murdered. Those who took their lives must be held accountable, says Iraj Mesdaghi.
Iraj Mesdaghi is himself a child of the Iranian revolution. But the road to becoming a social revolutionist was not straight. Mesdaghi was born into a wealthy family, in fact the same year and day as the Iranian Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi: October 31, 1960.
- My father owned several properties, one of my uncles hung out in the same circles as the shah, another of my father's brothers sat in parliament, says Iraj Mesdaghi.
- When I was 15, something happened that became a kind of political awakening for me. I saw a television feature from a school football match in which the crown prize was participating. The prince's team were awarded a penalty, and he stepped forward to put it in – but missed. The judge then decided that the penalty would be reversed. Now the goalkeeper stood completely still and let the ball pass him.
- I thought it was completely wrong. Why should the prince get advantages that others did not have? I began to think of all the other injustices that existed in Iranian society.
Iraj Mesdaghi sought out the radical student circles who wanted to overthrow the shah. The leading opposition group was the Mujahedin-i Khalq (MEK), colloquially Mujahedin.
- My parents didn't like it at all. In 1978, the same year I would have turned 18, my father sent me to California. I was supposed to start studying at a technical university in San Diego and become a civil engineer.
Iraj Mesdaghi smiles a little wistfully at the memory:
- But there were too strong forces at work. The Shah's regime was tottering and I was squarely on the side of the revolutionaries. The money my father sent I gave away to poorer comrades, to the struggle. In early 1979 I returned to Tehran.
- It was not that I wanted to see Khomeini in power instead of the Shah. I hated the mullahs (the scribes of Islam). But I believed in a true revolution.
Plaintiff and key witness. During all of the 92 trial days against Hamid Noury in the district court, Iraj Mesdaghi was present. "I will be in the Court of Appeal as well," says Mesdaghi. Photo: Paul Hansen
As the representatives of the "real" revolution, Iraj Mesdaghi saw the aforementioned Mujahedin. They brought together students and intellectuals of various backgrounds. According to the British Iran expert Geoffrey Robertson, the Mujahedin's program consisted of "the politics of Karl Marx, the theology of Islam and the guerrilla tactics of Che Guevara".
- Today I have distanced myself from the Mujahedin. But at the time they had a broad popular base, says Iraj Mesdaghi.
Mujahedin sympathizers ended up in political opposition. At the same time, the Islamic clergy, the new masters of Tehran, began a merciless hunt for dissent.
Representatives of the Mujahedin and other factions on the left were arrested, imprisoned, accused and sentenced for all kinds of crimes against sharia, the legal text that originates from the Koran. They were branded as monafegh, "hypocrites", or at worst non-Muslims.
"When my prison sentence came, I thought: This is my lucky day, I get to live"
Iraj Mesdaghi knew that the Ayatollah's men were after him. He was arrested on two occasions during the summer of 1981 but managed to avoid court. The third time he ended up in the infamous Evin prison in Tehran. He was sentenced to ten years in prison for association with the Mujahedin and "refusal to cooperate".
- I was imprisoned with comrades who received the death penalty for the same "crime". When my prison sentence came I thought: "This is my lucky day, I get to live". I think the judge was tired and unfocused when he pronounced my sentence.
The afternoon silence in the suburban apartment in Kista is broken by workers pruning the trees in the park outside with their chainsaws. The persistent cutting sound becomes an unpleasant reinforcement of Iraj Mesdaghi's memories from prison.
He was periodically placed in a space that was two meters by eighty centimeters. Not much bigger than a coffin. And he was tortured. Often it involved so-called phalange: repeated blows to the soles of the feet.
"The torturers bragged that I would need ten shoe sizes up when they were done with me"
To the uninitiated, it may sound harmless. But Iraj Mesdaghi says the phalanx is one of the most diabolical methods of torture there is.
- There is nothing more painful and terrifying than being whipped under the soles of your feet. The nerves of the feet are in direct connection with the brain. Each new blow is more painful than the previous one. The feet swell up and begin to bleed. The pain makes you unable to stand up, but forced to crawl on your knees back to the cell.
- The torturers used electric cables of various thicknesses. Before they started beating, they used to ask me which cable I preferred - "we are democratic". And they bragged that I would need ten shoe sizes up when they were done with me.
When the prisoners were kept outside the cell, they usually wore blindfolds that looked like the picture. The bandages were personal to avoid the spread of infection. "And they could be manipulated," says Iraj Mesdaghi. Photo: Paul Hansen
In the summer of 1988, when Iraj Mesdaghi had spent nearly seven years in prison, something happened that basically brought all political prisoners in Iran's prisons to the gallows, regardless of the sentence they were given.
Iran and neighboring Iraq had been fighting an irreconcilable war since September 1980. It was Iraq's dictator Saddam Hussein who attacked Iran. He was afraid that the Iranian revolution would spread to his own country. At the same time, Saddam hoped to take advantage of the division that the upheavals had brought.
But the strategy backfired. The Iran-Iraq war quickly got stuck in a limbo as hopeless as it was bloody. The casualties were counted in several hundred thousand on both sides.
Saddam Hussein and the Iranian Mujahedin found a common interest in fighting the regime in Tehran. Therefore, Iraq gave protection to the Mujahedin who set up a camp on the border.
After almost eight years of UN mediation, in which, among others, Olof Palme participated, Iran signed an agreement on a ceasefire. It was July 20, 1988. But just a few days later, the Mujahedin began a military offensive. About 7,000 guerrilla fighters moved from the base in Iraq towards Tehran.
"The enemies of Islam must be exterminated immediately," declared Ayatollah Khomeini
Their thinking was that the Iranian people would join them in the fight against the mullahs' regime. But the guerrilla offensive failed. Thousands of Mujahideen fighters were killed by Iranian government troops. The sympathizers of the Mujahedin who were in Iran's prisons became the object of the Ayatollah's wrath.
He issued a fatwa (edict) to the effect that all followers of the Mujahedin were to be considered mohareb, enemies of God. "The enemies of Islam must be exterminated immediately," declared Ayatollah Khomeini.
It was now that the "death committee" was established in the prisons. Work began immediately. Iraj Mesdaghi had been moved from Evin Prison to Gohardasht. Four times he was brought before the committee. But by luck and chance he escaped the death penalty.
The majority of prisoners were less fortunate. No one knows exactly how many were systematically executed in the next few days, but it is several thousand.
"Here is the prison corridor, there was the amphitheater where most of the executions took place." Iraj Mesdaghi has collected enormous amounts of documentation about the existence of the prisoners in the Gohardasht prison outside Tehran. Photo: Paul Hansen
Prisoners were hung in nooses from cranes and trusses. Others were beaten to death or put in front of execution squads. When the death committee meted out their alleged justice among the Mujahedin's followers, they targeted members of various left-wing groups.
Iraj Mesdaghi was often forced to wear a blindfold. But he still saw almost everything that happened.
- It was possible to manipulate the bandage so I could look out. I saw Hamid Noury several times, he says.
And Mesdaghi has meticulously documented everything. He takes out detailed drawings of Gohardasht prison and spreads them out on the floor, pointing and showing:
- There was the death corridor. And there is the prison amphitheater, where most of the executions took place.
In 1991, Iraj Mesdaghi had served his prison sentence. Three years later, he fled from Iran to Turkey, together with his wife and the couple's newborn son. With the help of the UN, the family was able to get on to Sweden, where they were granted asylum.
Life in exile has been difficult. Iraj Mesdaghi and his wife are still suffering from the effects of their time in prison.
- She weighed 38 kilos when she was released, says Iraj Mesdaghi.
He himself has constant pain in his joints and muscles, a reminder of the prolonged torture. In Sweden, he has devoted all his time to spreading knowledge about the abuses in Iran and to charting his prison time.
He has written numerous newspaper articles and several books. In addition, he has assisted human rights organizations with information.
- Official Iran has completely covered up the 1988 mass executions. What happened then is treated as a state secret. In many cases, the relatives do not even know where their relatives are buried.
"There is nothing more painful and terrifying than being whipped under the soles of your feet. The nerves of the feet are in direct connection with the brain". Iraj Mesdaghi tells about the torture he had to endure. Photo: Paul Hansen
But back to how Hamid Noury got caught. It was through his role that involved diggers and opinion leaders like Iraj Mesdaghi that Hamid Noury came on the trail.
On October 7, 2019, Mesdaghi receives a letter without a sender, written in Persian. The letter states that he can get information about a man he probably met during his time in Gohardasht prison in Iran.
Iraj Mesdaghi calls the phone number provided in the letter. A younger man answers. He asks if he can send a picture via WhatsApp.
- Then we can talk further, says the man.
"I immediately recognized him - it was Noury"
Iraj Mesdaghi's mobile phone pings, he opens the message - and his former tormentor in Gohardasht prison appears on the screen: Hamid Noury.
- I immediately recognized him. It was Noury, after all. Although in prison, he used a different surname – Abbasi.
Iraj Mesdaghi wants to meet his new contact as soon as possible. The very next day they see each other at a Persian restaurant in Kista.
A strange story unfolds. It has to do with some tricky relationships, where Noury happened to be on the periphery.
The young man, the previously mentioned Farhid, has until recently been married to a woman who is a protégé of Hamid Noury. The woman's own father is gone, and Noury has acted as a kind of extra father during her upbringing.
Now she lives in Sweden together with Farhid. But their relationship is bad. They are about to divorce, but have disagreed over the custody of their common child. The woman has mentioned that she has connections with powerful people in Iran who can support her in the custody dispute, and has specifically mentioned Hamid Noury.
DN has chosen to anonymize the man in the custody dispute and call him Farhid.
When Farhid researches information about Noury online, Iraj Mesdaghi's name comes up. He has mentioned Hamid Noury in books and articles. Now the young man wants Mesdaghi to testify in his favor in the lawsuit. If members of the court learn that Noury was involved in the mass executions at Gohardasht prison in Tehran in the 1980s, it will benefit Farhid's case in the custody dispute.
So he reasons.
But Iraj Mesdaghi immediately gets another idea. If Hamid Noury is involved in a custody dispute in Sweden, maybe he wants to come here? In Sweden, Noury could be held accountable for the crimes he has been involved in, only the Swedish judiciary finds out what he has done. And Iraj Mesdaghi has collected lots of evidence that can help the police and prosecutors in Sweden to investigate the crimes.
"I never doubted that Hamid Noury would be arrested and prosecuted for crimes against humanity and murder," says Iraj Mesdaghi. He was right - Noury is now serving his sentence, but has appealed. Photo: Paul Hansen
But, the reader asks, why should the Swedish police deal with crimes committed 450 miles away, in Iran?
The basic principle is that criminals must be sentenced in the country where the crime was committed. If that doesn't work, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague can intervene. However, in the case of Iran, it is not practically possible, because the Iranian regime has not accepted the Treaty of Rome (the basic statute of the ICC Court).
Swedish courts have the authority - and obligation according to international agreements - to judge particularly serious crimes, such as war crimes cases, regardless of the nationality of those involved, and regardless of where the crimes were committed. In technical terms, it is called universal jurisdiction.
Iraj Mesdaghi knew all this when he began to forge his plan.
- I said to Farhid: "You must make sure to reconcile with Noury. Call him up, but don't just talk about the custody case. Suggest that you can have some fun together in Sweden."
The strategy works out well. Farhid and Hamid Noury start an intense dialogue via Whatsapp, they chat, talk to each other and send audio messages.
"It was important to inform the police about what Noury was guilty of, so that he was arrested directly at Arlanda"
In the meantime, Iraj Mesdaghi begins working frantically to obtain the basis for a police report to be sent to the war crimes commission at the police in Stockholm. He contacts a law firm in London, specializing in human rights crimes, as well as the Swedish lawyer Göran Hjalmarsson, who has extensive experience in this type of criminal case.
- Hamid Noury wanted to visit Stockholm at the beginning of November 2019. It was only a few weeks away. Before that, it was important for us to inform the Swedish police about what Noury was guilty of, so that he was arrested directly at Arlanda, says Iraj Mesdaghi.
The trip is scheduled for November 9. To attract Hamid Noury, tickets are booked to Barcelona and Milan, as well as accommodation in fine hotels. Iraj Mesdaghi pays out of his own pocket.
- Money was not important to me in that situation. The only thing I had in mind was to give justice to my friends, those who were taken from the death row in Gohardasht prison and executed, says Iraj Mesdaghi.
The planning of the trip to Sweden is progressing, with frequent conversations between Farhid and Hamid Noury. Iraj Mesdaghi acts as a prompter.
- I remember one time when we were sitting in a cafe in Kista and Farhid was talking to Hamid Noury. Farhid had sent over photos of women - although they were pictures that he picked at random from the internet. Then he discovered a female acquaintance in the cafe and called her to him: "Come and say hello on the phone to my friend from Tehran." Afterwards he said to Noury: "You will get to meet her".
- Hamid Noury became more and more cheerful. I don't think he suspected anything. Just before he flew from Tehran, he asked Farhid to buy him a tie and a suit in Stockholm.
In addition, ties are banned in the Iran of the mullahs, they are seen as symbols of the decadent Western world.
"Someone can leak the plan to Hamid Noury, or to Iran's security service, I thought"
Iraj Mesdahgi crosses his arms and shrugs his shoulders as he sits on the sofa. It is as if he is transported back to those days in November 2019, with high stakes, bold calculations and strong nervous tension.
- I thought: "Now there are quite a few people involved in this." Someone can leak the plan to Hamid Noury, or to Iran's security service".
To put a fog curtain between himself and Hamid Noury's arrival in Sweden, Iraj Mesdaghi decided to fly to the United States.
- I had the opportunity to give a talk in Washington, and made sure to spread information about the trip via social media.
Meanwhile in the US, Iraj Mesdaghi barely slept a wink.
- I was so excited. Something could happen at the last moment that meant that Noury could not make it to Stockholm.
On the day of departure, Iraj Mesdaghi was connected to Flightradar, an app that tracks global air traffic. He became anxious when Hamid Noury's flight stood still long after the scheduled departure time.
- I was in contact with Farhid, who was informed that there was something wrong with the plane's doors. But eventually they took off.
Not long after the picture is taken, Hamid Noury will be arrested by uniformed police and taken to Kronoberg Prison in Stockholm. "I got a shock that is still there," says Noury to DN today. Photo: The police
In Stockholm, the lawyer Göran Hjalmarsson had already started preparing the case. He interviewed Iranians living in Sweden who, like Iraj Mesdaghi, were imprisoned in Gohardasht prison and was able to identify Hamid Noury. Hjalmarsson had also ensured that the police report against Noury was sent to the right instance.
Farhid was now at Arlanda. But unlike everyone else crowded there, he desperately wished that the person he was waiting for would not appear in the arrivals hall.
- All passengers had left the plane, except Hamid Noury. Then the police called Farhid and said: “Your relative is under arrest. Go home". Farhid called me. I was so happy, says Iraj Mesdaghi and lights up at the memory.
Now Hamid Noury was arrested. The court had four days to decide on detention. The lawyer Göran Hjalmarsson had been appointed as plaintiff's counsel for two of the Iranians who were in Stockholm and who, like Iraj Mesdaghi, survived the period of mass execution in Gohardasht prison.
- Göran Hjalmarsson called me in Washington. He said, “Iraj, you must get here as soon as possible. After all, we only have four days to convince the police and prosecutors that Noury should be detained".
It is the first time in the world that legal responsibility is demanded for the mass executions in Iran
Hamid Noury was very properly detained, which was the beginning of a very long and expensive legal process that has not yet ended. The preliminary investigation lasted for almost two years. It covers several thousand pages. The lawyer's bills for the district court proceedings alone have cost taxpayers SEK 22 million.
On July 27, 2021, Hamid Noury was indicted at the Stockholm District Court for serious crimes against humanity and murder. There are about 70 plaintiffs (persons who suffered damage from the crimes) from eleven countries, mainly Iranian refugees who were forced to leave their country in the years after the 1979 revolution and whose relatives were executed, or who were tortured in prison.
The trial, which was held in the old security room in the Stockholm District Court, took 92 days, between August 2021 and May 2022.
During that time, international expertise on Iran's contemporary history and its legal system, as well as memory scholars and international law specialists, were consulted.
The goal has received a lot of attention in the international media. It is the first time in the world that legal responsibility is demanded for the mass executions in Iran in the summer and autumn of 1988.
Hamid Noury pictured during the first day of the trial in August 2021. By then he had already been in custody for almost two years. Illustration: Anders Humlebo /TT
On the grayest and rainiest day of December, we meet Hamid Noury in visiting room 5:3:1 in the detention center in Sollentuna, north of Stockholm.
At that point, he has been in custody for three years and two months. An appeal court hearing is now pending, which will end in late summer 2023 at the earliest.
Despite the circumstances, Hamid Noury seems to be in fine form. He stays lean, apart from a slight hint of party ball. Dressed in a white polo shirt over which he has pulled a thin branded t-shirt, it is covered in small embroidered palm trees. Add to that beige khaki pants and white sneakers that are so new they look like they were taken straight out of the shoebox.
In short, Hamid Noury could be any upper-middle-aged gentleman, outfitted for a golf vacation.
"You have read the judgment, right? I haven't even been to that prison”
But when Noury starts talking, it's clear that he has spent too much time without company other than himself and his thoughts. He throws himself on me like a castaway. The words come in cascades, the sentences take on the character of outbursts, and he regularly works his way up to furious rage.
- You have read the verdict, right? I have not even been to that prison in Tehran that the prosecutor is talking about. This is a conspiracy! He (Iraj Mesdaghi) spread my picture all over Sweden before the trial. That's why the witnesses claim they recognized me.
How was the flight from Tehran to Stockholm?
- It is true that I tried to help this couple. Yes, I have visited them before in Stockholm when they had problems in their marriage. I am a kind man, a generous man and help several families in Iran, both financially and with good advice.
- Now he (Farhid) called and pestered me for help so that he could see his daughter more often. Yes, he cried on the phone and asked me to come to Stockholm, says Hamid Noury.
He confirms that there were plans for air travel in Europe and a Finland cruise, but denies that women would have been in the picture:
- No, I'm not like that. But I know there are nasty rumors being spread by people who want to disgrace me. And by the mass media! Consider that I have been locked up here for over three years and no journalist, no human rights group, has bothered to visit me. You are actually the first.
Noury's statements are contradicted by testimony from plaintiffs who independently say they recognize him from prison. As well as the fact that he has contact information for high-ranking people in Iran's legal apparatus in his mobile phone, information he would hardly have had access to if he had been a simple prison guard.
But Noury maintains that he had a subordinate role in the prison system, which he has long since left. Now he works in the construction industry.
- That's where I made my money.
The case contains issues of international law that have not been tried before. In order to have Hamid Noury convicted of a serious violation of international law, the court must be convinced that the prisoners in Gohardasht prison are regarded as fighting on the side of Iraq in the war between Iran and Iraq.
It is a sensitive issue for many plaintiffs, who in the light of history do not want to end up on the same side as Iraq's notorious dictator Saddam Hussein.
Another much-noticed factor in the case is that Iran's current president, Ebrahim Raisi, has been singled out as a member of the "death committee" appointed by Ayatollah Khomeini. The group of expounders of sharia, the Islamic interpretation of law, who on scant and sporadic grounds sent prisoners to their death in those summer months of 1988. At the time, Ebrahim Raisi was the deputy city prosecutor of Tehran.
When the now 62-year-old Raisi, ultra-conservative and outspokenly anti-Western, was elected president of Iran in June 2021, many in the outside world drew attention to his dark past within the death committee.
The information is supported, among other things, by a large report that Amnesty International published in December 2018. The title "Bloodsoaked Secrets", refers to the fact that official Iran has tried to silence and hide the mass executions throughout the years. This is underlined by the Swedish preliminary investigation.
”The current president, is outspokenly anti-Western and deeply rooted in Iran's Islamic revolution which in 1979 overthrew the Shah. Raisi was also involved in the mass execution of around 5,000 political prisoners in July 1988. Photo: Iran's Presidential Staff/TT
It is in this spirit that the legal process against Hamid Noury is brought up again. He appealed the verdict in the district court, and the proceedings in the Svea Court of Appeal are to begin on January 11.
He himself says that Sweden took him hostage.
- Don't call me a political prisoner. I am kidnapped by the Swedish state. Your country Sweden violates human rights.
According to Hamid Noury, the motive for his arrest and life sentence would be that Sweden wants to use him in a prisoner exchange with Ahmadreza Djalali. And that the Swedish government wants to flog Iran's mortal enemy, the United States.
Before the appeal court hearings, several regime-loyal media in Iran have published articles about Noury being treated badly in custody. He is said to have been refused tea and served food that is not "halal" (compliant with the standards set by the Muslim faith).
Noury also claims that he was abused by guards at the Kronoberg prison, where he was previously placed, and that his restrictions on receiving visitors are unreasonably harsh.
Hamid Noury spreads his fingers and puts one palm a few centimeters from my face.
- Five! Five times I have been allowed to receive visits from my relatives during the 38 months I have been incarcerated. It's torture!
Ebrahim Raisi himself has never admitted that he had a role in the executions. But he has said the death sentences were justified, thanks to the fatwa issued by Khomeini.
The trial against Hamid Noury has contributed to the historically bad relationship between Sweden and Iran. When the life sentence was handed down in the district court in July last year, Iran temporarily took its ambassador home from Stockholm. And the Iranian government summoned Sweden's diplomatic envoy in Tehran to protest. The sentence against Hamid Noury is described by official Iran as "politically motivated" and "unjust".
Even before the verdict was handed down, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs advised all Swedish citizens against traveling to Iran. On the Foreign Ministry's website, it is emphasized that Iran does not recognize dual citizenship. This means that Swedish-Iranians who temporarily visit Iran cannot count on Swedish consular support if they get into trouble with the authorities.
According to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs source who wishes to remain anonymous, there is talk internally at the ministry about the risk that Iranian exiles could be arrested on extremely loose grounds if they visit their old homeland.
The most talked about Swedish-Iranian imprisoned in Iran is the doctor and researcher Ahmadreza Djalali. He was arrested in April 2016 and sentenced to death for espionage in a flawed trial. Djalali has been told several times that his execution is imminent, but the execution has so far been postponed.
During the time Hamid Noury has been away from Iran, the country has been embroiled in perhaps the most extensive and prolonged protests since the revolution of 1979. The ongoing uprising was sparked by the death of young woman Mahsa Jina Amini in the custody of the moral police in Tehran on September 16, 2022.
- I can only watch Swedish TV and I don't understand the language, but I know what is going on. The protests are the work of the US, UK and Israel. They hate that Iran is free. Believe me, the rebellion will soon subside.
That is the last thing Hamid Noury manages to say during our hour-long visit. A burly guard in a dark blue uniform calls to him and we part ways.
DN has forwarded Hamid Noury's criticism to Charlotte Magnusson, who is the head of the detention center in Sollentuna. Magnusson replies in writing that she is not allowed to discuss individual detainees due to client confidentiality, but can only answer in general terms.
Detainees without restrictions can normally be visited by family once a week. "In the case of detainees with restrictions (...) the prosecutor must allow visits to take place," writes Magnusson.
Furthermore, she informs that tea and coffee are served every day and that religiously adapted diet is one of the choices for the inmates. As for the TV selection, there are 15 channels to choose from, including Al Jazeera and Discovery.
"The next step should be to put Ebrahim Raisi on trial for his involvement in the executions," says Iraj Mesdaghi. Raisi is linked to the "death committee" which was active in 1988 and which decided who would be executed. Photo: Paul Hansen
In the Court of Appeal, Noury will be defended by former Minister of Justice (2000–2006) Thomas Bodström and his lawyer colleague Hanna Larsson Rampe. The former lawyers were fired by Noury, because he was dissatisfied with their performance.
Martina Winslow is the case's prosecutor. She was also in the district court. She does not want to speculate about the outcome of the appeal court case, but tells DN that "the evidence (against Noury) is robust".
- We feel secure that the evidence rests on a robust investigation. It has been a very extensive preliminary investigation. After all, we have not been able to rely on previous rulings. The historical/political/religious background (to the prison massacres) has never before been brought up or established in a court of law. So we have had to start from scratch, you could say.
"He, like many others, has dedicated his life to seeking redress"
Martina Winslow notes that Iraj Mesdaghi was one of the prosecution's main plaintiffs.
- Yes, he was heard for several days in the district court. He is one of the survivors who has been very active in writing books and articles. I take it to mean that he, like many others, dedicated his life to seeking redress.
If Hamid Noury is also convicted in the Court of Appeal, many observers believe that it could open up legal proceedings in other European countries against representatives of the Iranian regime, in cases where these are suspected of war or human rights crimes.
In other words: while the street protests and demonstrations against the regime continue inside Iran, despite the regime's brutal attempts to stop them, the risk increases that the country's President Ebrahim Raisi may be held accountable in Europe for crimes committed decades ago.
If that happens, it will largely depend on Iraj Mesdaghi, a 62-year-old disabled pensioner in the Stockholm suburb of Kista.
Mesdaghi himself believes that it would be a logical next step to bring Ebrahim Raisi to justice.
- Hamid Noury was sentenced to life imprisonment, but the person who was one of his superiors at the time: Ebrahim Raisi, as the president of Iran, can travel to Europe for state visits and conferences without risking any punishment. It is as if you were to sentence a guard in a concentration camp, but let the commandant go free.