Since August, Hamid Noury a former Iranian prison official has been on trial in Sweden for his participation in mass executions carried out in the summer of 1988. During that time, the court heard from more than 20 witnesses who observed him leading prisoners to the “death commission” and to the gallows at Gohardasht Prison during the period in question. During four sessions over the past two weeks, Noury spoke in his own defense and denied the undeniable evidence but confirmed key aspects of the Iranian regime’s approach to jurisprudence and the brutal punishment of dissidents.
Noury’s denials carry no weight, being clearly desperate in their overreach and contrary not only to the statements from other witnesses at the trial, but also to statements from hundreds of other survivors and their families, as well as various other regime officials who took part in the 1988 massacre. The other eyewitnesses offered their informal testimony in gatherings outside the Stockholm court, as well as outside a court in Durres, Albania, to which the proceedings were temporarily relocated at the suggestion of prosecutors.
That change of venue was motivated by the fact that over 3,000 members of Iran’s main opposition group, the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) reside in Ashraf 3 in Albania, following their relocations from Iraq. Seven of these residents offered testimony before the Durres district court, while Ashraf 3, played host to a conference that featured detailed recollections from a dozen others.
In 1988, the MEK was the prime target of the nationwide massacre in Iran, and as also confirmed by witnesses at Noury’s trial, any suspected affiliation with the MEK was considered sufficient grounds for the death commissions to sign off on the execution of a political prisoner. In so doing, the Death Commission carried out the orders of the regime’s founder and first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, who issued a fatwa earlier that year declaring all MEK members guilty of “enmity against God.”
As the implementation of that fatwa was beginning, Khomeini followed up in response to letters from subordinate officials and ordered them to “annihilate the enemies of Islam immediately.” These instructions ultimately led to the execution of over 30,000 political prisoners all across Iran. The MEK members constituted about 90 percent of that figure, and both estimates have been affirmed during Noury’s trial.
According to some survivors, 30,000 is a conservative estimate, as it relies on descriptions of the scale of killings only in those prisons and wards where survivors remained after the fact. One witness for the prosecution at Durres noted that after being sent to solitary confinement in the midst of the massacre, he later emerged to be told by a member of the prison’s general population that he was apparently the last person left from his political ward.
Stories like this one make it very clear that the Iranian regime’s goal in 1988 was indeed to “annihilate” the MEK in its entirety, and to stamp out political dissent altogether. MEK not only survived the massacre but soon rebounded and continued its growth as an opposition movement, to the point of taking on a leading role in two nationwide uprisings in recent years.
Those movements, in January 2018 and November 2019, reaffirmed the MEK as the greatest threat to the clerical regime’s hold on power. The Noury trial further reinforced the MEK position, especially in the wake of the defendant’s own statements to the court. Amidst absurd denials of his presence at the time of the massacre and the very existence of the prison where he was seen at work, Noury repeatedly veered off into monologues that praised regime authorities and condemned the MEK.
While some of these statements attempted to promote long-debunked allegations against the Iranian Resistance, others simply confirmed the depth of the regime’s concern about the MEK. At one point, when challenged over his use of derogatory alternatives to the MEK’s proper name, Noury said that if he was to do so, he would face arrest and prosecution for crimes against national security.
Noury emphasized that he would be no exception, in spite of all his loyal service to the clerical regime. “The head of the Iranian judiciary, Ayatollah Mohseni Eje’i, does not joke around with anyone,” he said before requesting that the Swedish judge also avoid uttering the word “Mojahedin,” out of concern that doing so would “create problems” for Noury. Thereafter, he returned to referring to MEK by pejoratives that are common within the regime, including the label of “grouplet”.
In the court in Stockholm this morning, criminal Hamid Noury explicitly underscored that the name of People's Mojahedin Organization (#MEK) in Iran is the red line and anyone who mentions the name of the Mojahedin will be prosecuted & arrested. #ProsecuteRaisiNow #1988Massacre
— Shahin Gobadi (@gobadi) November 25, 2021
Of course, the regime’s attempts to downplay the MEK’s influence are diametrically opposed to its sensitivity about the mere utterance of that group’s name. Efforts to ban any public reference to the PMOI only make sense if the mullahs view it as a real threat to their hold on power. No less an authority that the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei acknowledged that threat in 2018, at the height of the January uprising, when he undermined years of government propaganda by saying that the MEK had helped to shape the anti-government slogans that defined that movement.
Similar connections to the MEK were acknowledged by regime officials in November 2019, as security forces opened fire on crowds of peaceful protesters and killed 1,500 people in a matter of only days. Authorities’ response to the growth of unrest once again portrayed their fear of an organized opposition movement.
That death toll underscores concerns about the potential for even worse crackdowns at a time when the hostility and enmity between the regime and its people will soon undergo an unprecedented increase since Ebrahim Raisi became the regime’s president.
During the 2019 uprising, Raisi was head of the Iranian judiciary, and for months afterward he oversaw the systematic torture of persons who were arrested in connection with that movement. Worse still, in 1988, he was one of four officials who served on the Tehran death commission, making him personally responsible for thousands of deaths and far more culpable for the nationwide massacre than Hamid Noury.
The international community should open a broader inquiry into the massacre following Noury’s trial, and to pursue accountability for Raisi and other leading perpetrators. There has been a 33-year delay in justice for the massacre’s victims and their families.
To date, Noury is the only person to face any legal consequences for the massacre, and the absence of prosecution has emboldened the regime to act with impunity in cracking down on dissent both at home and abroad.