Human rights lawyer and Justice for Iran Executive Director shared her knowledge of the 1988 massacre and Iranian judicial system in a criminal court in Stockholm trying Hamid Noury, the alleged perpetrator, who was arrested on his arrival in Sweden in 2019 and charged with murder and war crime.

In the 77th court session, Shadi Sadr, who led the research group for Painscapes – the map of mass graves in Iran- and contributed to Amnesty International’s report on the same topic, was made to testify as an expert witness. She was examined by the prosecutors, the plaintiff’s and defendant’s lawyers on her work on the 1988 massacre, as well as the legality of the massacre within Iranian law.

Sadr explained that Noury, who worked under Naserian (Mohammad Moghiseh), the Acting Director, at Gohardasht prison and Deputy Revolutionary Prosecutor, had been mentioned by survivors who had been interviewed by Justice for Iran years prior to Noury’s arrest. The interviewees specified that ‘Abbasi’ (Noury) was involved in calling out prisoners to be taken to the execution hall and ordering guards to torture prisoners, among other violations.

Shadi Sadr

“Visitations were completely cut off. Families could not find out anything about the fates of their children for months. Thousands of prisoners had the status of enforced disappeared for months. The burial of prisoners was done in secret, mostly at night and in mass graves with no markers. In most cases, the bodies were never returned to the families.” Sadr said when asked about secretive manner in which these executions were carried out.

Gohardasht prison, where Noury was employed, was one of dozens who adopted these hidden tactics that led to the deaths and disappearances of thousands during two months of a single summer.

Evidence from both Sadr’s research and testimonies from other sessions of the trial show that Noury was indeed involved in the day-to-day, systematic torture of prisoners, including arbitrary hitting and trapping prisoners in rooms with very little air to mimic a gas chamber.

Sadr emphasised that the massacre had been systematic and nationwide – this was not an isolated incident, and the orders came from Khomeini, the former supreme leader, as evidenced in the fatwa recorded in Montazeri’s memoir. Hussein-Ali Montazeri was the Deputy Supreme Leader at the time of the massacre.

Additionally, she said that the fatwa (order) issued after the ceasefire of the Iran-Iraq war and the defeat of the PMOI in Iraq only included the order to purge PMOI prisoners even though leftist prisoners were also victims. She pointed to the possibility that there may have been no second fatwa when it came to executing leftists, due to their status as apostates in the Islamic Penal Code – there would have been ground to execute them even without a higher order.

Sadr was questioned on the claim that the execution of political prisoners was given legality through a judicial procedure and supreme court review. She denied this claim, calling it a total lie and saying the executions that took place were outside the Islamic Republic criminal procedure and were illegal, even within Islamic Republic laws at the time which violated the principles of fair trial and rights to defend.

The trial is expected to continue through April and will be the first official proceeding against any perpetrator of the 1988 massacre in Iran.

The 1988 massacre in Iran was a roundup and execution of the opposition to the Islamic Republic regime, specifically the Mojahedin (PMOI) and leftist groups. Although executions did occur in the years prior, thousands are estimated to have been killed in the summer of 1988 and buried in unmarked mass graves. The alleged perpetrators of this crime enjoy impunity to this day.

Justice for Iran’s own research depicted on Painscapes and its joint report with Amnesty International, Criminal Coverup, shed a light on these crimes. They reveal the locations of over 70 mass graves, their destruction and what happened in 23 prisons across Iran in 1988. Most of the evidence gathered by these organisations come from interviews with over 100 survivors and families of survivors, and pictures and videos taken of mass graves by the families.