The trial of Hamid Nouri, a former senior official at Gohardasht Prison, for his part in Iran’s 1988 prison massacre continues in Sweden. During the 15th hearing at Stockholm District Court on Tuesday, September 14, Ramazan Fathi, a former political prisoner, testified on his observations of Nouri’s involvement in the killings.
Fathi, the seventh plaintiff in the criminal case against Nouri, was arrested in 1981 on the charge of supporting the opposition Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK). He told the court he had originally been sentenced to death, but it was later commuted to life in prison after two retrials. The judge in all three of his cases was Hossein Ali Nayeri, a member of the notorious Tehran death panel who that summer in 1988, would send thousands to their deaths.
The audio file released by the court conveying Fathi’s testimony details numerous incidences of torture and violations of prisoner’s rights. During his detention in 1988, Ramazan Fathi was twice taken to the "death corridor" on August 6 and 16, but was not executed by hanging or firing squad as hundreds of his fellow inmates were. His lawyer said he still suffers from the psychological after-effects of what Hamid Nouri and others did to them, which led to his losing the ability to work.
Asked by the prosecutor about his time in Gohardasht Prison, Fathi said: "A year before the killings, I was transferred from Ward 2 to Ward 3 to Gohardasht, where I became a cellmate of [star witness] Iraj Mesdaghi.”
He had first seen Hamid Nouri in 1983, he said, in the execution room of Evin Prison. Nouri was in his twenties at the time, he said, but due to his extreme cruelty had progressed very quickly up the ranks to the position of chief prosecutor’s deputy.
The groundwork for the mass killings, Fathi said, had been prepared long ago: “The separation of prisoners began long before 1988. Prisoners with life imprisonment sentence or heavy sentences were separated long ago in order to be executed on time." He recalled the rudimentary gas chambers set up at Gohardasht, which were ultimately not used in 1988, saying that before the massacre they had been used to torture people: "It was a small room that held many prisoners, where the prisoners felt suffocated and pressured."He also spoke about a rudimentary tunnel built by the Revolutionary Guards under the direction of Hamid Nouri, where prisoners were beaten as they passed through on the way to the gas cells.
Witnessing a Massacre, One Glimpse at a Time
According to Fathi, on Thursday, July 28, 1988, ten of his cellmates were taken to the Gohardasht prison court, managed by Hamid Abbasi (Nouri). "He interrogated these people: questions such as first name, last name and charge. These were brave guys and they said that they were with the Mojahedin.
“We waited a long time. They didn’t bring them to the ward until 11pm. When they arrived, we asked them what had gone on. They said that they had been questioned, and sent back amid intimidation and threats. They said, 'Go to the ward; we’ll come for you!'"
The next day, he said, prisoners had their break times cancelled and the TV set was removed from the cell. "We were stressed and asked what these moves were for." Then on July 30, those 10 were taken away again along with two convicts from Karaj. “Some time later, one of the Karaj defendants returned to the ward. He said the death panel had come, sentenced them all to death and given them a piece of paper to write their will on. He also said that many others were also there."
Fathi said the execution site in Gohardasht Prison was the prison Hosseiniyeh, or mosque, and the conference hall. Behind his prison ward, he said, stood a shed that the guards seemed keen to inspect: “The guards were very eager to go inside that shed. I heard they’d seen people taking ropes to the shed in a van. I later saw several people carrying carts full of slippers. I realized they were executing the prisoners."
He and one of his inmates, Ruhollah, who was later executed, witnessed the transfer of corpses through an opening one night. "We counted up to 30 bodies. But we decided not to say anything to the other inmates.”
The Terror of the "Death Corridor"
Ramazan Fathi then described the actions of Hamid Nouri, then known as Hamid Abbasi, during those days in taking prisoners down the “death corridor”. “Before he took these prisoners, we were told to go to our rooms. After they were taken away, they returned the survivors to the other ward in front of us in the afternoon.
“Those who returned spoke to us in morse code [by knocking on the walls]. They said most of the prisoners who said they were with the Mojahedin were executed."
Fathi said one of the detainees -- who knew the details of his own case and his commuted death sentence -- had told him to be careful, given that Judge Nayeri was chairing the death panel. Then on the night of August 6, it was his turn. “[Prison security chief Davoud] Lashkari, Abbasi [Hamid Nouri] and another person whom I guess was a representative of the Ministry of Intelligence came and asked me questions: name, surname, charge... Alas, at that moment, I did not have the courage to say I was with the Mojahedin. I said I was ‘a supporter’."
In the corridor, prisoners were being taken in groups to the conference hall to be executed. Fathi confirmed a macabre detail previously also described by Iraj Mesdaghi: “Mr. Abbasi [Nouri] was distributing sweets among them, chanting 'This is the Mojahedin's Ashura again'. He must remember that now."
At one point, Fathi said, he heard someone shout: “Bring the rest!” to which Laskhari had responded: “Their bodies are still warm; we can’t get them off the ropes”.
Miraculously, both times Ramazan Fathi was made to stand in the corridor, he never appeared before the death squad and was spared. Hamid Nouri, he said, continued to bring prisoners before the panel until the end of the massacre. He also confirmed that the current President of Iran Ebrahim Raisi sat on the death panel.
Hamid Nouri is on trial for war crimes and murder; Swedish domestic law prevented an additional charge of crimes against humanity being brought against him. He and his lawyers have repeatedly denied the allegations, most recently claiming he served as an “office clerk” in the prison and was on leave in the summer of 1988 due to the birth of his son.
Nouri is also the first ex-official of the Iranian judiciary – and indeed, Iranian – to be tried for his role in the massacre, in any jurisdiction. So far six witnesses besides Fathi have testified against him:Iraj Mesdaghi, Nasrollah Mardani, Mehdi Barjesteh Garmroudi, Homayoun Kaviani, Siamak Naderi and Mohsen Eshaghi.