A former Iranian prison official began speaking in his defense before a Swedish court this past week. Hamid Noury’s testimonies were a litany of lies. Noury denied undeniable documents about the 1988 massacre, called the massacre a fabricated story and denied all the facts that even regime’s officials have acknowledged.
In four sessions, Noury blatantly denied culpability for the mass execution of political prisoners during the summer of 1988 but offered no real evidence to contradict the accounts that had been given over approximately 40 previous sessions by former political prisoners who had personal dealings with him at Gohardasht Prison. Those witnesses recalled seeing Noury leading prisoners to and from the “death hall” where they were interrogated over their political affiliations before being sent to gallows in groups of 12 or more. Many also described Noury as enthusiastically participating in the torture and abuse of detainees for years leading up to the massacre.
Formal testimony from these witnesses was given both in Stockholm and in Durres, Albania, to which the proceedings were temporarily relocated in November based on prosecutors’ requests. The change of venue stemmed from the fact that thousands of members of Iran’s leading pro-democracy opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization (PMOI/MEK), currently reside at a compound that was established in Albania following their relocation from Iraq in 2016. The PMOI was the prime target of the 1988 massacre after its members were declared guilty of “enmity against God” in a fatwa by the regime’s founder and first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini.
While Khomeini’s fatwa in his own handwriting exists, Noury called this fatwa a fabricated story. Shortly after Khomeini issued his fatwa, the so-called “Death Commissions” were formed across Iran. These commissions identified the MEK supporters and sent them to gallows.
Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, then Khomeini’s heir, wrote a letter to Khomeini inquiring about the massacre in 1988. In response Khomeini wrote, “Under Sharia law, the responsibility for issuing the decree in question is mine. So, you do not have to worry. May God rid us all of the evil of the Monafeqin [PMOI/MEK].” This letter was published in Montazeri’s book. When the prosecutor asked Noury about this letter, Noury called Montazeri a liar and denied the existence of this letter.
In addition to the initial decree, Khomeini underlined the necessity to execute MEK members in his letters to various regime officials. One of those officials was Mohammad Yazdi, then the regime’s judiciary chief. In his statement Yazdi emphasized to Khomeini that his decree “has condemned the entire [MEK] organization, not individuals, thus, there is no limit in punishing [the MEK members] for waging war on God.”
When one of the defense lawyers asked Noury about Yazdi’s remarks, and whether Noury knows him or considers him a liar too, Noury blatantly said: “No he is not a liar, you are a liar.”
Noury also called Khavaran gravesite a “lie.” Khavaran, near Tehran, is one of many mass graves where the 1988 victims are buried.
Noury’s baseless remarks come after a series of shocking testimonies by the MEK members during the court sessions in Albania.
Apart from the residents of Ashraf 3, supporters of the MEK span the entire Iranian diaspora. The overwhelming majority of the MEK members and supporters either survived the 1988 massacre by narrow margins or lost loved ones during it. Many of them have made their voices heard during Noury’s trial by holding gatherings outside of the Stockholm and Durres courts and by speaking directly to the media about the massacre’s legacy and the steps they hope will be taken to bring other perpetrators to justice.
At Ashraf 3, around 1,000 former political prisoners took part in a conference that restated the facts of the case and featured intimate personal recollections from some survivors. The event emphasized the importance of conviction in the Noury case, but also highlighted the need for broader accountability. That same message has been conveyed in a number of other recent conferences organized by the Iranian Resistance, some of them with participation from scholars of human rights and international law.
In 1988, the regime’s president Ebrahim Raisi served as one of four members of the Tehran death commission. In 2013, one of Raisi’s fellow death commissioners, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, was appointed as Minister of Justice. Raisi himself was given leadership of the regime’s judiciary in 2019 before being promoted to the presidency. These appointments reflect the death commissioners’ lauded status within the regime, and they specifically reflect efforts by the supreme leader to promote the massacre’s legacy through the operation of Iran’s criminal justice system.
The praise of human rights abusers is so deeply ingrained in the culture of the Iranian regime that it found clear outlet in Noury’s trial. He blatantly applauded actions taken by Raisi, Khamenei, and other prominent criminals. Noury described Raisi as the “popular president of the Iranian people” in spite of the fact that regime authorities acknowledged voter turnout in June had been lower than in any previous presidential election. That boycott was accompanied by protests that condemned Raisi as “butcher” and “henchman” of the 1988 massacre.
The popular rejection of Raisi’s presidency represents another reason for the international community to follow up on the Noury trail by pursuing broader accountability for the regime and its officials. However, it remains to be seen whether any relevant authorities will actually take action toward that end. In any case, Noury’s open praise for Raisi is a sign that neither he nor the regime will take Western pressure over human rights issues seriously unless it expands to include more than the trial of one low-level participant in Iran’s worst crime against humanity.