“They celebrated the executions with sweets”—former political prisoner recalls Iran’s 1988 massacre in court

Reporting by PMOI/MEK

Durres, Albania, November 11, 2021—On Thursday, the District Court of Durres, Albania, convened for the thirty-sixth 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 in 2019. 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.

The previous sessions of the trial were held in the District Court of Stockholm. At the request of the prosecutors, the judge decided to transfer the trial’s location to Albania, where thousands of members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) reside. Members of the MEK were the principal target of the 1988 massacre, in which the regime executed more than 30,000 political prisoners.

During Thursday’s session, Majid Saheb Jam, a former political prisoner who spent seventeen years in Iran’s prisons testified on the atrocities that took place in Iran’s brutal prisons. During the 1988 massacre, Saheb Jam was in Gohardasht prison, and he directly witnessed the role played by Noury and other regime officials in the 1988 massacre.

In his testimony, Saheb Jam explained in early 1988, he was transferred from Evin prison to Gohardasht. In 1986, prison authorities were classifying prisoners based on their stance toward the MEK. Those who stood firm in their support for the Iranian opposition were transferred to Gohardasht.

Upon their arrival to Gohardasht, the prisoners were immediately tortured.

“They brought us to a corridor, a ward that was almost empty, and the guards stood in lines to form a tunnel for the prisoners,” Saheb Jam said. As the prisoners passed through the human tunnel, the guards beat them with sticks and cables.

Among the guards, Saheb Jam saw Hamid Noury. “I was surprised to see him there,” he said. Saheb Jam had previously seen Noury in Evin prison, where the latter served as a normal prison guard, taking prisoners to the bathroom, torture chambers, and for breaks.

“I had seen him more than ten times in Evin,” Saheb Jam said.

On the morrow of arriving in Gohardasht, Saheb Jam and the other prisoners who had come from Evin were interrogated. “The prison authorities wanted to determine which prisoners were standing firm [in their support for the MEK],” Saheb Jam said. The task was given to Davood Lashgari, who took the prisoners to another ward for interrogation.

“In these interrogations, which were very intense, after going through the basics such as our first and last name, they asked, ‘Are you a supporter of the MEK or any other group?” Saheb Jam said. “And then the more violent interrogation began to determine our status.”

On July 29, 1988, the Friday Prayers sermons were being broadcasted in the prison. During Friday Prayers, high-ranking clerics speak about the regime’s policies on different issues. On that Friday, the message of the Friday Prayer was that prisoners should not be tolerated in prisons.

“That sermon sealed our fate,” Saheb Jam. “After that, Davood Lashgari took us to the main rooms, where he asked our names, particulars, and our crime. This determined our fate.”

On July 30, all televisions were removed from prison. Newspapers stopped being delivered and all meetings were cut off.

In the next few days, the prisoners tried to communicate with other wards and get information about what was happening. Among the things they learned was that a delegation had arrived in the prison. Among its members was Hossein Ali Nayyeri, Sharia judge of Evin prison and the head of the Revolutionary Courts.

“We knew that Nayyeri was not here to stop meetings and breaks. He was here to make a serious decision,” Saheb Jam said.

Nayyeri was one of four regime officials who constituted the “Death Commission,” a group tasked with deciding which prisoners would live and which would be sent to the gallows. Other members of the commission included current regime president Ebrahim Raisi and former justice minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi. The Death Commission summoned political prisoners one by one and decided their fate in trials that lasted no more than a few minutes. Prisoners who refused to disavow their support for the MEK were immediately sent to the gallows.

The Death Commission was acting on the direct orders of regime supreme leader Ruhollah Khomeini, who had issued a fatwa that stated anyone who continues to support the MEK is an enemy of God and deserves to die.

“We also heard that on July 30 and 31, several prisoners were taken to a warehouse and executed. We later learned where those warehouses were,” Jam said. The warehouse, known as the “Death Hall,” was where prisoners were gathered for the executions during the 1988 massacre. As one group of inmates were hanged, the prison authorities forced the others to watch until it became their turn to have the noose thrown around their neck.

On August 5, the chief of the supreme judiciary council spoke at the Friday Prayers, the only source of information that the prisoners still had access to. “He said, ‘I can’t stand it. They are constantly telling me why are these prisoners alive? When they tell me to execute MEK prisoners, I have no answer,’” Saheb Jam said. “By hearing his words, the piece of the puzzle fell into place and we realized what awaited us.”

On August 6, the guards came to the ward where Saheb Jam was, and they read out a list of names. “We were blindfolded and transferred to the building that they referred to as the courthouse,” Saheb Jam said.

After a few minutes, Saheb Jam was taken inside the building, where he met the Death Commission. “Except one of them, I recognized Nayyeri, [Morteza] Eshraghi, Raisi, [Esmail] Shoushtari, and another person that I later learned was Pourmohammadi,” Saheb Jam said.

After asking his name and particulars, the so-called judges told him, “We want to pardon the prisoners.”

“I remembered the speech from the previous day’s Friday Prayers, and it had no semblance of pardon. The presence of Nayyeri had no indication of pardon. He was here to sentence, not to pardon,” Saheb Jam said.

When asked what his crime was, Saheb Jam said, “I’m a supporter.”

The judges insulted him and called him a supporter of Monafeghin (hypocrites), the term the regime uses to refer to the MEK.

“Nasserian [Mohammad Moghiseh] entered the room with a paper and told me to sign it. It was a document that stated I denounce [opposition to the regime]. I left the room with Nasserian and wrote a few words on the paper,” Saheb Jam said. “A few minutes later, Nasserian came back, took the paper, and led me to the main hallway and told me to sit down. It was in this hallway, where prisoners were sitting on both sides, that I witnessed many things.”

That hallway has become known as the “Death Corridor,” where prisoners were kept waiting until their turn to meet the Death Commission.

“Some of the prisoners were taken to the end of the corridor, and new prisoners were brought in,” Saheb Jam said. “This cycle repeated several times until the end of the night. This is where I met Hamid Abbasi [Noury] for the first time. He came out of the courthouse and stood in the middle of the corridor and read names from a paper. After a few minutes, these 12 people were lined up and he told them to go to their wards. Those words were very painful.

“I lost some of my best friends that day, people who were with me that morning and had been sent to the Death Commission,” he said. “The only difference was that when they were asked the same question, they presented themselves as supporters of MEK. I didn’t say that. And I watched them walk past me and go to the death hall.”

Saheb Jam then named several prisoners who were executed on the same day. “They died because they stood firm on their support for the MEK,” he said.

One of the most painful scenes was Mohsen Mohammad Bagher. “Both his legs were paralyzed. When he was a kid, he had played a role in a famous movie that won a prize in a film festival in Sweden… he went into the line of execution with crutches,” Saheb Jam said.

Another prisoner, Nasser Mansouri, was taken to the death hall on a stretcher because he was paralyzed from the neck down.

“The painful scenes would not end. I kept on watching as Hamid Abbasi [Noury] called the prisoners in series and handed them over to the executioners,” Saheb Jam said. “[Noury] held a box of pastries and offered sweets to prison guards as they passed by… They were celebrating the executions with sweets.”

Hamid Noury told Saheb Jam and several other prisoners to get up and line up and to put their hands on the shoulder of the person in front of them.

“I could see him from under the blindfold. I thought it was the final moments of my life. But then he told us to turn back. He knew we weren’t supposed to be executed but he wanted to torment us. He told one of the guards to take us back to the ward and wait for our turn tomorrow,” Saheb Jam said.

On August 13, Saheb Jam was taken to the Death Corridor again, where he witnessed more prisoners being taken for execution.

“This time, the difference was that they were in a bigger hurry and we didn’t know why,” Saheb Jam said. “Hamid Abbasi called prisoners, asked their name and father’s name, and took them to the Death Hall in groups of 10 to 15.”

While the trial proceeded, several witnesses of the 1988 massacre and families of the victims gathered in front of the court in Durres and spoke to the press about the Iranian regime’s crimes against MEK members and dissidents.

At the same time, MEK members in Ashraf 3 held a gathering in memory of the victims of the 1988 massacre. During this ceremony, many political prisoners spoke and retold accounts of the atrocities that took place in Iran’s prisons. It is worth noting that hundreds of former political prisoners are now in Ashraf 3, and many of them were prepared to testify in the Stockholm court. Due to limitations in time, only a few were accepted as plaintiffs in the case.

Meanwhile, in Stockholm, where Noury and his lawyers are attending the trial through video conference, a large group of supporters of the MEK held their protest rally in front of the court. The demonstrators are demanding for a larger tribunal that includes other perpetrators and orchestrators of the 1988 massacre, including regime president Ebrahim Raisi and supreme leader Ali Khamenei.

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.

In the afternoon, Saheb Jam further explained about his time in prison. He was initially sentenced to 12 years in prison but ended up spending 17 years behind bars.

“In 1992 my father passed away. I received furlough for my father’s funeral,” Saheb Jam said. “When I returned to prison, they said you recruited a college student during the funeral ceremony to join the MEK. They then sentenced me to death. Then the ruling was changed to life in prison, and then nine years in prison. Finally, I was released in 1999.”

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