“The guards punched the hanging bodies”—horrific account of mass executions in Iran’s Gohardasht prison

Reporting by PMOI/MEK

Durres, Albania, November 11, 2021—On Friday, the District Court of Durres, Albania, convened for the thirty-seventh 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 and executed prisoners.

The first 34 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 Friday’s session, Asghar Mehdizadeh, a former political, testified on the atrocities that took place in Iran’s brutal prisons. Mehdizadeh was arrested in 1982 for supporting the MEK and spent 13 years in various prisons, including Evin and Gohardasht. He is one of the direct witnesses of the 1988 massacre.

Mehdizadeh, who hails from the northern village of Sume’esara, was incarcerated in Gohardasht prison. His family had severe difficulties to make the 350-kilometer trip to Karaj to visit him.

“I requested to be transferred to the city of Rasht. When I talked to Hamid Abbasi [Noury] about this, he said you are still holding your position and describing your sentencing as supporting [the MEK]. Until you start cooperating with us there will be no transfer. So, he rejected my request and I returned to the ward,” he said in his testimony.

Mehdizadeh was also a first-hand witness to how Noury, who was one of the senior prison guards in Gohardasht, torment political prisoners.

“One day in the winter we saw [Hamid Noury] from the window. He was taking a number of the younger inmates to the courtyard, forcing them to crawl on the ground in that cold. When I saw this scene along with a number of other prisoners from the window, we saw [Noury] and a prison guard named ‘Majid Lore’ punishing those young inmates,” he said.

As the end of July approached, the regime started the long-planned goal of purging prisons of all political dissidents.

“On July 27, 1988, the prison guards took us to the courtyard. After we returned, they ordered all of us to put on blindfolds and to exit our sections… I saw Hamid Abbasi [Noury] sitting behind a small desk and when I reached the desk, he started asking me questions. One of the questions was about my sentence. When I said I am a MEK supporter, in contrast to the past when he would curse and start beating me, this time he said nothing,” Mehdizadeh said. “When we returned to our section of the prison and started to the others, we were all asking questions about why were they treating us like this?”

On the afternoon of July 28, the guards took away the TV from the prison wards.

“The next day I saw an armed IRGC member holding a radio transmitter checking the courtyard. All the other prisoners were surprised to see this. This was on Friday, July 29, when we usually had visits and could buy items from the prison store. We were getting ready for our visits when an IRGC member said you are not permitted to have visitors or purchase anything from the store,” Mehdizadeh said.

At around 11 am, the guards called two prisoners and took them away. “We were worried that they were being taken to solitary confinement or for execution,” Mehdizadeh said.

An hour later, Mehdizadeh saw five blindfolded prisoners being transferred by Davood Lashgari [Rahmani], a notorious torturer of political prisoners. They went to the bathroom and carry out their wudhu ritual, the washing before Islamic prayers. Some prisoners went through the wudhu before their execution.

“They were joking and embracing each other,” Mehdizadeh said. “One of them was tall… when I saw him, I broke into tears because I knew him. It was Mahsheed Razaghi, and we used to be in ward 19 together.”

Mahsheed Razaghi was a respected football (soccer) player and played on Iran’s national youth team. He was executed during the 1988 massacre. Razaghi was a meli-kesh, the term political prisoners used to refer to inmates whose sentences were finished but the regime kept them in prison.

The group of prisoners were transferred inside a warehouse.

“We were thinking what did they intend to do with those prisoners. Will they be tortured or executed? After an hour I saw around 20 prison guards coming out of the warehouse. They included Lashgari, Hamid Abbasi [Noury], Khaki, Ali Bee-dandan, and Jafari, who was in charge of the prison store, and a number of other prison guards. They were coming towards our section of the prison,” Mehdizadeh said.

Mehdizadeh and another prisoner overheard what the guards were saying.

“They were saying these are Monafeghs [hypocrites, the term Iran’s regime uses to refer to the MEK], all of them must be executed,” Mehdizadeh said.

An hour later, Mehdizadeh saw ten more blindfolded prisoners trained across the court by Nouri and Lashgari. They went through the same process, doing the wudhu and prayers. They embraced each other and went into the building that the others had gone before them.

“Until that night, I saw around 19 or 20 people being taken into the building. At night, the guards brought out their dead bodies and carried them away with a car,” Mehdizadeh said. “That night we were all waiting for the guards to call us.”

The next morning, Lasghari came to the ward and told all prisoners to put on their blindfolds and exit the cells. When they went out, the guards were lined up in two rows. As the prisoners walked through the human corridor, the guards beat them and asked them, “What is your crime?”

“When they asked Mohsen Karim Nejad his crime, he said in a loud voice, ‘Supporter of the MEK!’ After that, Hamid Abbasi [Noury] and another guard pulled him out of the line. We never saw him again,” Mehdizadeh said.

The group of prisoners were taken to a large room. Lashgari called out the names of 13 prisoners and took them away. Mehdizadeh was among them.

“When we went out, Hamid Abbasi [Noury] took us to the ‘Death Corridor,’” Mehdizadeh said.

The hallway known as the Death Corridor was where prisoners were kept waiting until their turn to meet the Death Commission, a group tasked with deciding which prisoners would live and which would be sent to the gallows. 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.

“From August 4 to August 8, I was in the Death Corridor,” Mehdizadeh said. “And every day, I witnessed 15 groups of 10-15 prisoners being taken to the ‘Death Hall.’”

The Death Hall was a large warehouse 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 the evening of August 8, Mehdizadeh was in solitary confinement when Mohammad Moghiseh (also known as Nasserian), Pourmohammadi, Noury, and several others entered the cell.

“When they opened my cell, Nasserian started swearing at me and said this is a monafegh who is still firm in his support [for the MEK],” Mehdizadeh said.

After talking to each other, the authorities took Mehdizadeh out of the cell, and while he was blindfolded, they took him through a series of hallways and rooms. Along the way, they took a brief stop to torture him in one of the rooms.

In one of the hallways, he saw a row of bags on which it read, “We’re gone. Send our regards to the MEK.”

Mehdizadeh was put in a cell. He heard voices from the neighboring cells and tried to communicate with them through morse code by tapping on the wall. He was interrupted by a group of prison guards who suddenly entered the cell.

“They took me to the bathroom and tortured me. I passed out in the bathroom. When I regained consciousness a few hours later, I could barely move,” Mehdizadeh said. “I crawled out of the bathroom and found a window to look outside.”

Mehdizadeh saw another prisoner in the neighboring cell and waved at him. “I introduced myself to him. He said his name is Hadi Mohammad Nejad,” he said. Four of Mohammad Nejad’s relatives, including three of his brothers and a sister-in-law had been executed by the regime.

Mohmmad Nejad told Mehdizadeh that he was taken to the Death Hall and was asked by prison authorities to cooperate with them. “When I saw the executions, I did not accept the proposal,” Mohammad Nejad told Mehdizadeh. “They took me into the Death Hall. From under the blindfold, I could see the bodies of the dead. One of the guards removed my blindfold. I saw a stage on which twelve MEK supporters were standing on chairs with nooses around their necks. The guards were dragging the dead bodies out of the building. Davood Lashgari, Nasserian, and Hamid Abbasi [Noury] were on the stage. The MEK supporters started to chant slogans such as ‘Long live freedom,’ ‘Long live Rajavi,’ ‘Death to Khomeini.’ The guards started pulling the chairs from under their feet…”

The next morning, two guards came for Mehdizadeh. He was taken in front of the Death Hall and told to sit down next to another prisoner.

“I asked [the prisoner] what is going on here? He said, ‘Is it your first time?’ I said yes. He said, ‘Then they’ll take you to the Death Hall to see the executions,’” Mehdizadeh said.

An hour later, a guard came out of the Death Hall and loudly said, “Those who want milk and honey, rise.” (“Milk and honey” was a mock reference to the verses of the Quran, which describes heaven as having flowing rivers of milk and honey.)

“Twelve people got up and loudly chanted ‘Ya Hossein [the third Shiite Imam] and hail to Mojahed.’ After these 12 people got up, four or five others joined them. The guard who saw them said, ‘You’re speeding past each other to be executed?’ One of the prisoner said, ‘Yes. You know why? Because we’re Mojahed and you’re a Pasdar [Revolutionary Guard members loyal to Khomeini],’” Mehdizadeh said. “They weren’t afraid of being executed and they were mocking the regime in its entirety. They did not fear death.”

From under his blindfold, Mehdizadeh watched the guards take three groups into the Death Hall and line up others in the corridor. “The prisoners broke their watches and glasses, so that the guards have nothing to loot. They even ripped the banknotes they had in their pockets and their letter of will,” Mehdizadeh said.

When they came for the fourth group a guard called Mehdizadeh and told him to follow him into the Death Hall.

“The guard took me into the hall and kept me standing at around 30 meters from the stage. From under my blindfold, I could see the bodies of executed prisoners piled up on each other on the stage,” he said. “I lost control. When the guard remove my blindfold, I saw 12 MEK supporters on the stage, standing on chairs and with nooses around their necks. The guards were carrying the dead bodies outside and showing them to each other. On one side of the stage were Nasserian, Davood Lashgari, and Hamid Abbasi, and on the other side were around 20 other guards.”

At that moment, the prisoners started chanting, “Long live Rajavi, Death to Khomeini!”

“As the prisoners shouted, Nasserian and his entourage were looking at them with stupefaction. Then suddenly Nasserian snapped at Davood Lashgari, Abbasi, and the other guards, ‘These are monafeghs! What are you waiting for? Empty their chairs!” Mehdizadeh said. “As Nasserian started removing the chairs, Lasghari and Abassi followed suit.”

After the fourth person, the prisoners started jumping off the chairs by themselves in defiance of the regime.

“Some of the guards punched the hanging bodies and shouted, ‘Death to monafegh’” Mehdizadeh said. “As I took in these scenes, I lost my control and balance. After a while I noticed that someone was splashing water on my face.”

In his testimony, Mehdizadeh gave further details about his experience in the Death Corridor on August 1.

“[Hamid Abbasi] brought us at the head of the main corridor. There, Davood Lashgari was sitting. He summoned the prisoners one by one and asked them what they were charged with. Anyone who said ‘supporter of MEK’ was handed over to Hamid Abbasi. Abbasi took them to the Death Corridor and the Death Commission in groups of seven or eight,” Mehdizadeh said.

On August 1, there were too many prisoners and they didn’t fit in the Death Corridor.

“The were told to sit in the main corridor, then Nasserian came and asked them the same question. Whoever said ‘MEK supporter’ was quickly taken to the Death Commission,” Mehdizadeh said. “When they were taken to the commission, it didn’t take more than a minute or two, and then they took them to the Death Corridor, where they were handed to Hamid Abbasi. Abbasi took them to the Death Hall in groups of 10 to 12.”

While Mehdizadeh was sitting in the corridor, Nasserian [Mohammad Moghiseh] came to him.

“He slowly whispered, ‘Crime?’” Mehdizadeh said. “At the time, I wasn’t brave enough to say I’m an MEK supporter… After that Hamid Abbasi took me away to the other side of the corridor.”

In his testimony, Mehdizadeh also talked about the trauma in the aftermath of the 1988 massacre.

“In June 1989 I was transferred to the prison clinic to undergo surgery, and afterwards I was taken to the room where patients were hospitalized. The next day I saw new people, five or six, in the courthouse. Despite the pain in my leg, I placed a chair next to the window and kept on calling for them. None of them responded,” he said. “Later I came to learn that they had become mentally unstable [following the 1988 massacre]. They were taken away and a number of others came to the courthouse. The moment I called on him, one of the prisoners, Jafar, came towards the window and I became acquainted with him. He said when they arrived at Gohardasht prison Davoud Lashgari, Hamid Abbasi, Nasserian, and a number of other prison guards had formed a tunnel. They were being called ‘MEK supporters’ and that ‘we will not have anyone here who remains steadfast on their position [of supporting the MEK].’”

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.

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