“Prison guards celebrated the execution of MEK members”—survivor of 1988 massacre testifies in court

Reporting by PMOI/MEK

Iran, October 21, 2021—On Wednesday, Stockholm’s District Court convened for the thirty-second session of the trial of Hamid Noury, an Iranian prison official charged with torturing inmates in the Gohardasht prison (Karaj) and taking part in the 1988 massacre of thousands of political prisoners. Noury was apprehended by Swedish authorities during a trip to the country. Noury is now standing trial in a court where many of his victims are giving harrowing testimonies of how he and other regime officials brutally tortured prisoners.

On Wednesday’s session, Ali Zolfaghari, a former political prisoner and a supporter of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) testified before the court. Zolfaghari was arrested by Iranian security forces in November 1981 at the age of 17 for selling copies of Mojahed, the MEK’s newspaper. He spent 12 years in Evin, Gohardasht, and various prisons in Iran’s northern provinces, where he experienced and witnessed atrocities by the Iranian regime.

In his testimony, Zolfaghari said that on July 30, 1988, he saw Noury and several other prison guards in Gohardasht carrying hanging ropes in a wheelbarrow to a large silo. “On the same day, several prisoners who had been transferred from Mashhad to Gohardasht were taken to the prison’s yard by the guards. These were prisoners who were openly supporting the MEK and were well known among other prisoners. From the window, we saw them perform wudu [ritual washing before prayers] and then they were taken away by the guards,” he said.

Around that time, the regime had started the mass execution of political prisoners across Iran, an even that has become known as the “1988 massacre.” During the 1988 massacre, the regime carried out the swift and brutal execution of more than 30,000 political prisoners across Iran, mostly MEK members and supporters. The purge was directly ordered by regime supreme leaders Ruhollah Khomeini in an edict that explicitly stated that anyone supporting the MEK is an enemy of God and deserves to be executed.

Zolfaghari said that most Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) members in the prison, even those who were working in the workshops, kitchens, and construction, were involved in the executions. “Khomeini had ordered everyone to participate in the killing so that no one can say ‘It wasn’t me,’” he said.

“On August 1, Hamid Abbasi [Noury] took me from the death corridor to the death commission’s room and handed me to Nasserian. There, I met [Hossein-Ali] Nayyeri, [Ebrahim] Raisi, Prisons Organization Chief [Esmail] Shushtari, and [Mostafa] Pourmohammadi, the representative of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security,” Zolfaghari said.

The “Death Commission” was the group of regime officials who carried out Khomeini’s fatwa. They summoned political prisoners and held minutes-long trials. Any prisoner who did not disavow their support for the MEK was immediately sent to the gallows. One of the key members of the death commission was Ebrahim Raisi, who is now the regime’s president, and Mostafa Pourmohammadi, the former justice minister. The “Death Corridor” was the name of the corridor where the prisoners waited for their turn to meet the death commission. The “death hall” was the large room where prisoners were hanged in groups while others were forced to watch them until their turn came. Very few people went into the death hall and came back to tell the story. Those who did have given horrific accounts of how the regime humiliated and tortured prisoners even in the last minutes of their lives.

“In the death hall, Nasserian gleefully said that today is the Ashura of the MEK,” Zolfaghari said, referring to the historic event Ashura in which Imam Hossein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, was brutally murdered along with all his followers in the deserts of Karbala, Iraq. “They wanted to massacre everyone and they were happy about it,” Zolfaghari said. “That day, the names of prisoners were read several times and they were taken to the death hall. Those days, the IRGC guards were celebrating the execution of MEK members and supporters and were handing out sweets.”

Zolfaghari named some of his friends who were executed on that day and the next.

“The second time that we were taken to the death corridor, it was very crowded. All the prisoners were brought to be judged by the death commission,” Zolfaghari said. “From my communications with other prisoners, it had become clear to me that a massacre was happening and all of Gohardasht prison was involved and they wanted to settle scores. They had been threatening us about it for years. They said they wouldn’t let anyone leave the prison alive. And they had started to classify prisoners for this purpose months and years in advance.”

While he waited in the death corridor, Zolfaghari had another encounter with Noury.

“In the death corridor, I was sitting next to MEK supporter Behruz Shahi Moghani, who was one of the very resistant prisoners. He said, ‘They are carrying out executions. I went to the death commission and defended the MEK and their ideals. I don’t care what happens,’” he said. “Then he started chanting the Iran Zamin anthem, which was indicative of his resolve. At that moment, Hamid Abbasi [Noury] arrived and kicked him hard, swore at him, and took him away. I never saw Behruz again.”

Zolfaghari said that he personally saw trucks that were brought to the prison to take away the dead bodies of the executed prisoners. “I could hear the sounds of bodies hitting the car’s floor,” he said.

After meeting with the death commission, Zolfaghari was kept in solitary confinement for one month, where he was tortured by the prison guards.

“The prison guards used different excuses to pass us between them like a soccer ball and beat us. They wanted us to swear at [Iranian opposition leader] Massoud Rajavi,” he said.

While the court proceeded, a large group of Iranians resumed their protest rally in front of the court, calling for the prosecution of senior regime officials, including Raisi and supreme leader Ali Khamenei. Many of the protesters were family members of the thousands of dissidents murdered or executed by the regime.

The 1988 massacre has been described as a war crime and crime against humanity. Legal experts also recognize it as a “genocide” and should be addressed by international tribunals.

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