Trial of a Mass Murderer Has the Men Running Iran on Edge

During a rendezvous at the United Nations General Assembly, the Iranian regime's foreign minister lodged a formal complaint with his Swedish counterpart about the trial of Hamid Noury, a former Iranian official, in Stockholm.  Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told Sweden's Ann Linde that all the documents provided to the court are "fabricated."  A month prior, a spokesman for the regime's Foreign Ministry had warned, "We will naturally use all our diplomatic means to obtain and enforce Hamid Noury's rights."

Who is Hamid Noury, and why is the regime clearly terrified of his trial in Sweden?

Hamid Noury was a low-ranking official in the 1980s, formally serving as the deputy prosecutor of a prison in Iran called Gohardasht.  He was arrested during a family visit to Sweden in November 2019.  He was charged with crimes against humanity for his involvement in the massacre of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.

The 1988 massacre remains a dark stain on the Iranian regime's past, the blood-drenched legacy of which is still haunting officials who continue to hold key positions, including the recently installed president, Ebrahim Raisi.  At the time, Raisi was a member of the "death commissions" that perpetrated the murders.

In 1988, after realizing that its position was badly weakening in the face of growing domestic opposition, the mullahs decided to annihilate committed political opponents, starting with those in prisons.  Then–supreme leader Ruhollah Khomeini issued a hand-written religious decree (later publicized by his former designated heir) ordering the immediate execution of the most committed opponents of the fundamentalist theocracy, members and supporters of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK).

So-called "death committees," made up of security and intelligence officials, were established to act as pseudo-courts that conducted minutes-long trials.  Thousands of political prisoners were lined up and questioned about their beliefs.  Those who remained steadfast to the MEK's democratic ideals and tolerant interpretation of Islam were declared infidels and sentenced to death.  It is estimated that at least 30,000 political prisoners, the majority of them MEK members, were killed in the span of a few short months in 1988.

Amnesty International and top United Nations human rights experts have declared the 1988 massacre a "crime against humanity," and acclaimed legal minds have noted that it can also be regarded as a "genocide" since it targeted the MEK's moderate religious interpretations of Islam that ran counter to the ayatollahs' extremist and fundamentalist reading of the religion.

Against this background, Sweden is now carrying out the trial of Hamid Noury.  According to witnesses, in addition to involvement in torture, Noury was responsible for leading people to a location in Gohardasht prison where they were ultimately executed.  According to the Swedish prosecutors' indictment, "Hamid Noury also himself on some occasions attended and participated in the executions."

Why was Noury so freely roaming Europe?  The answer lies in the fact that the regime's criminal officials are emboldened as they see Europe's conciliatory attitude toward the ruling mullahs.  They think they have a free pass to zigzag the world without facing any consequences for their past and present crimes against humanity.  It is also suspected that he was sold out by a rival faction within the regime's security and intelligence apparatus.

Whatever the reason for his ultimate arrest in Sweden, the regime has been working hard to sabotage legal proceedings by launching a campaign of misinformation spearheaded by its well-known lackeys in Europe.  So far, however, the MEK's strong involvement in the case has kept Tehran's subterfuge at bay.

So vital is the MEK's contribution to the legal proceedings that, in an unprecedented move, the judges in Stockholm relocated the trial to Durrës in Albania in order to hear key witness testimonies from seven MEK members residing in Ashraf 3 in Albania (currently home to thousands of members of the MEK).  The presiding judge, Radmannen Tomas Zander, had explained about the unprecedented move that "[d]espite all the difficulties and challenges for the transfer, we made this decision considering the significance and importance of testimonies of the plaintiffs who are in Albania."

Testimonies by the seven witnesses from Ashraf 3, who provided firsthand information about the atrocities and mass executions that occurred in Gohardasht, shocked the court.  The proceedings were widely reported by the media.  The judges were particularly impressed by the precision and detail with which the witnesses from Ashraf 3 provided the information on the 1988 massacre.  A replica of Gohardasht prison was made by Ashraf 3 residents and taken to the court in Albania.

This was in addition to the fact that most of the 35 plaintiffs in Noury's case are MEK members and supporters and provided a wealth of evidence and testimonies in Sweden.

Last week, the Noury case returned to Stockholm.  He was given the opportunity by the Swedish judiciary to testify, the very opportunity that he and Raisi robbed from thousands of innocent political prisoners in Iran back in 1988.  Still, Noury's expected nonsensical tirades against the MEK only laid bare the extent to which the regime fears the impact and influence of the organization inside Iran.

Instead of being allowed to complain about the trial of Noury in Sweden, the regime's foreign minister should be constantly questioned about the 1988 massacre by Western officials and the press.

As a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, I believe that this extraordinary case should obligate the U.N. and its member-states to finally open an official inquiry into the 1988 massacre.  Raisi and other senior officials of the regime must be held accountable for committing genocide and crimes against humanity.

(This article was updated to reflect the fact that, because of a slight delay in publication, it referred to the trial as a future event rather than a past event.)

Ken Blackwell is the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

Image: Chickenonline via Pixabay, Pixabay License.

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