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Iranian citizen sentenced to life in prison for executions of political prisoners in Iran in 1988

Mål: B 15255-19
Stockholm District Court has today sentenced a 61-year-old Iranian citizen for participating in the executions of many political prisoners in Iran in the summer of 1988. The accused has in the role of assistant to the deputy prosecutor at the Gohardasht prison in Karaj, Tehran jointly and in collusion with others been involved in the executions, which took place after a fatwa from Iran’s Supreme Leader. The first wave of executions was directed at sympathizers of the People's Mujahedin of Iran. The acts have been deemed as a serious crime against international law. The second wave of executions was directed at left-wing sympathizers who were deemed to have renounced their Islamic faith. These acts have been deemed as murder. The sentence is life imprisonment.

The acts against sympathizers of the People's Mujahedin of Iran (Mujahedin) originated in the power struggle that followed the Iranian revolution in 1979 and the group's participation in the armed conflict between Iran and Iraq. The investigation has shown that the Mujahedin's attacks against Iran, which took place before the executions, originated in Iraqi territory and that these attacks, including operation Eternal Light on July 26, 1988, was supported by and carried out in cooperation with the Iraqi army. The district court has therefore concluded that the Mujahedin became part of the international armed conflict between Iran and Iraq. This means that international humanitarian law was applicable. The prisoners were thus protected as civilians in the hands of a party to the conflict.

The investigation shows that the Supreme Leader of Iran, mainly due to the Mujahedin's attack Eternal Light, issued an order (fatwa) that the Mujahedin's sympathizers in Iranian prisons, who were faithful to their convictions, be executed. The fatwa contains statements that show a direct link between the death sentence for the Mujahedin’s sympathizers in the prisons and the international armed conflict.

The investigation has also shown that the executions which followed the fatwa required planning and cooperation between several people with different functions. A committee, in accordance with the fatwa, reviewed the prisoners' conviction to the Mujahedin and sentenced them to death following a procedure that did not meet the basic requirements of a fair trial. The death penalty was carried out immediately by hanging. A very large number of prisoners were deprived of their lives. Prisoners were also caused severe death anxiety in connection with the procedure. The district court has ruled that the executions, due to the connection with the international armed conflict, entailed serious violations of international humanitarian law.

It has further been established that the committee returned to Gohardasht on August 27, 1988, and that the trial then was focused on left-wing sympathizers who were considered to have renounced their Islamic faith. The prisoners had previously been imprisoned because of their links to regime-critical left-wing groups after the revolution.

The trial led to the executions of a very large number of prisoners whose ideological and religious beliefs were considered to be contrary to the theocratic state of Iran. The death penalty was also executed this time following a procedure that did not meet the basic requirements of a fair trial. The procedure was in violation of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran was bound by 1988.

The investigation has shown that the accused, jointly and in collusion with others, participated in the commission of the criminal acts. He has under an alias and in the role of assistant to the deputy prosecutor retrieved prisoners, brought them to the committee and escorted them to the execution site.

The circumstances have been such that the accused is to be regarded as a perpetrator. In view of the connection with the international armed conflict, the acts directed against the Mujahedin prisoners have been deemed as a serious violation of international law. The acts against the left-wing supporters have been deemed as murder.

- A main issue has been whether there has been any form of undue influence exerted on the witnesses, comments the presiding judge Tomas Zander. The accused has claimed that the Mujahedin fabricated the investigation and wrongly accused him of participating in a fabricated course of events for political gains. However, nothing substantial has emerged which gives the Court reason to question the investigation's reliability and robustness.

The oral evidence in the case has included statements regarding observations which were made more than 33 years ago and that, for the vast majority of the persons heard, were made under emotional and chaotic conditions.

- It has, considering these circumstances, been difficult to assess the credibility and reliability of the statements, comments Tomas Zander. Here, the Court has taken into account that one has an ability to remember key details, such as the perpetrator's appearance, during very emotional events. The Court has also considered that one is better at remembering people who are known rather than unknown. It has been shown in the case that the accused was known to many of the plaintiffs at the time of the acts.

The sentence is, considering the severity of the crimes, life imprisonment.

The accused will also be expelled from Sweden with a ban from returning.

Compensation for injury has been awarded to close relatives of executed prisoners and to surviving prisoners.

Other information

The main hearing lasted for a total of 92 days between August 2021 - May 2022. Tomas Zander and Anna Liljenberg Gullesjö have been judges of the case together with four lay judges.

Orders of the Swedish judgement should be made by e-mail to: stockholms.tingratt.avdelning4@dom.se

An electronic copy of the judgment is provided for free via e-mail. A physical copy is handed out for a fee of SEK 428 in accordance with section 16 of the Fee Ordinance (1992:191).