On Monday, the District Court of Durres, Albania, convened for the thirty-eight 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. He 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 in November, 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 Monday’s session, Akbar Samadi, a former political, testified on the atrocities that took place in Iran’s brutal prisons. Samadi was arrested in 1981, while he was only 14 years old, and spent 10 years in prison for supporting the MEK. In April 1986, he was transferred to Gohardasht prison.
On July 30, 1988, around the time the massacre of political prisoners started, Samadi was in the upper floor of Gohardasht’s Ward 2. The prison guards transferred Samadi and several other prisoners out of the ward and to what later became known as the “Death Corridor,” 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.
“As we were being transferred, Davoud Lashgari [one of the senior authorities of Gohardasht] saw us and yelled at the prison guards, ‘Why have you brought this group? Don’t bring them until I’ve called them by name,’” Samadi said.
The group of prisoners were then transferred us to solitary conferment. A few hours later Lashgari came inside the ward and read out a list of names, who were transferred to the previous ward, being Ward 3
“They had emptied a building in preparation for the massacre,” Samadi said, and added, “Due to the fact that this section had no connection to the other sections, and the administrative building prevented this ward from being connected to other wards, it was located far from the other wards. That is why they had chosen it as the site to carry out the executions.”
There, Samadi met other prisoners and obtained news about recent developments in the prison.
“All that we heard indicated changes and certain developments in the making. A number of the prisoners had seen Davoud Lashgari and a number of prison guards in the ward’s TV room. They had a wheelbarrow with ropes (nooses),” he said.
On that day, the prison guards took away several prisoners. On July 31, Samadi witnessed the prison guards taking away several other inmates.
On August 1, the prisoners were talking to each other when Lashgari suddenly entered the ward and said, “Prisoners who have sentence of 10 years and more, come out.”
“Since I had just come out of solitary confinement, I protested. I wanted to find out what they were up to,” Samadi said. “I told Lashgari that I just came out of solitary confinement. He said ‘It’s not in my control. Come out.’”
Sixty to seventy prisoners were taken out of the ward and, after a few questions, were divided into two groups. Samadi and a group of prisoners were taken to one of the sections and the rest of the prisoners were taken to solitary confinement. Samadi stayed in solitary until August 3.
“On August 3, the guards came to the lower section and read out two series of names. My name was in the first,” Samadi said. “We were brought to the Death Corridor early in the morning. After a few minutes, Nasserian [Mohammad Moghiseh] read my name and took me to the Death Commission. After removing my blindfold [Hossein Ali] Nayyeri [one of the members of the Death Commission] asked my name and particulars. Then he asked the reason of my arrest and my sentence and whether I wanted to be pardoned. I said I’ve been in prison for seven years, and the remaining three years are not worth asking for a pardon.
“He asked me what is my crime. I said I’m a supporter. ‘A supporter of what?’ he asked. I said the MEK. He told me to go out. I came out of the room and sat down. I didn’t know exactly how the executions were proceeding. I just knew that several had been executed.”
Samadi started discussing the situation with a prisoner who was sitting next to him when Raisi called him. At the time, Raisi was the deputy prosecutor.
“He took me to one of the rooms near the Death Commission’s office. He asked my name and sentence and told me to denounce military confrontation. I told him when I was arrested, I was shorter than a G3 rifle. He told me to condemn Komeleh, one of the Kurdish groups. I told him I’m not Kurd nor tied to Komeleh. He got mad and threw me out of the room,” Samadi said.
Back in the Death Corridor, Samadi noticed that the guards had taken away the previous prisoners and had brought in a new group. He was placed next to a prisoner who had lost his mental stability due to the severe torture. He was taken for execution a few minutes later. “He wasn’t the only one to have such conditions,” Samadi said and added that he had seen at least four other prisoners who had lost their sanity under torture.
“The lights were off in the Death Corridor, but every once in a while, the door to the Death Hall opened, and I could see things from the light that reflected off the walls,” Samadi said. “In the Death Corridor, I could see the prisoners fade into darkness. The guards were constantly moving around. Some were standing guard with arms.”
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.
While in the Death Corridor, Samadi heard from one of the prisoners that the executions had also started in Evin prison. “Tell the others that they are executing everyone,” the prisoner told Samadi.
While in the Death Corridor, Samadi protested to Nasserian, asking why were they being kept in the corridor.
“Be thankful that you’re still breathing. I will personally throw the noose around your neck,” Nasserian told Samadi.
In the Death Corridor, Hamid Noury led the prisoners to the Death Commission and the Death Hall. “I was there until late at night. Almost everyone was taken to the Death Hall,” Samadi said. “Hamid Abbasi [Noury] came and read out 14 names. When he read Morteza Yazdi’s name, no one answered. He repeated it several times, but again, no one answered. He had taken the wrong person for execution. They executed Morteza Yazdi instead of Seyyed Morteza Yazdi.
“I told Hamid Abbasi, ‘You didn’t read my name. Look at the list.’ My name wasn’t on it.”
That night, Samadi was taken to solitary confinement on the second floor.
“Almost all the cells were occupied. Some of the prisoners were executed that night and others received their death sentences,” Samadi said. Samadi and other prisoners updated each other about the prisoners who had been executed.
On August 6, Samadi was taken to the Death Commission. Before that Davoud Lashgari would constantly visit the prisoners and ask whether they had met the Commission or not.
“He wanted to make sure no one had been brought here by mistake,” Samadi said. “I realized that my death warrant had remained on Raisi’s desk.”
While in solitary confinement, Samadi communicated with other prisoners.
“Gholamreza Kiakajouri was in the cell that was across mine. He said, ‘I can’t live without the rest of the prisoners.’ Manouchech Bozorgbashar was in the adjacent cell. He said, ‘Today, I will go and take a stand,’” he said.
When Lashgari came, Samadi, Kiakajouri, and Bozorbashar were taken out of the cell. “They were executed on August 16,” Samadi said.
Lashgari took Samadi back to the Death Corridor and then to the Death Commission. After being asked the same questions, he was sent back to the Death Corridor.
“When I was there, I witnessed several times that Hamid Noury read out the names of the prisoners who were to be executed,” Samadi said. “He read the names and took the prisoners to the end of the corridor.”
Samadi stayed there until sunset, and then he was taken to Ward 2, where several other prisoners were present.
“I communicated with the adjacent cells and the cells on the second floor,” Samadi said. “Almost everyone knew about the executions. What they didn’t know was when their turn would come.”
Samadi told the court that he had gathered a list of names of 377 prisoner who had been executed, including 177 in Gohardasht and others in Gorgan and Khuzestan.
Late in the evening on August 8, Nasserian and several other guards, including Hamid Noury, came to Samadi’s cell.
“Nasserian asked, ‘Will you do an interview?’ Since I didn’t know this was one of the conditions of the court, I said that I haven’t thought about it. He said, ‘What were you thinking about.’ I said, ‘Freedom. There is only three years left from my sentence,’” Samadi said. At the time, the Iranian regime had established a process of forcing prisoners to do televised interview against the MEK. “As he spoke, I realized that this is one of the conditions for execution. My response angered him. He and Hamid Abbasi wrote down my name.”
On August 9, Samadi was taken to the Death Commission.
“Pourmohammadi and [Esmail Shoushtari] spoke with me,” Samadi said. “I pretended that I had a headache. They continued to talk and then Pourmohammadi asked me to do an interview and sent me back to the Death Corridor. There, every 30-40 minutes, Hamid Abbasi would come and read a list of names and take them to the end of the Death Corridor. Those who were to be executed would be taken to the Death Hall. As for those who were to return to solitary confinement, he would take them to the line and pretend that he wanted to execute them. Then he would take them to solitary.”
Samadi returned to his cell that night. There he continued to use morse code to communicate with nearby cells and exchange information about the Death Commission and the executions.
On August 13, Samadi returned to the Death Commission.
“Nayyeri read my name. He had two pieces of paper in his hand and looked at them every time I answered one of his questions. He asked whether I would do an interview, I said yes,” Samadi said.
Raisi, Pourmohammadi, and Moghiseh were there too. Moghiseh had brought Lashgari and Noury with him.
“I said, I was 14 years old [when arrested]. If I killed anyone, I would receive the death penalty based on your own law,” Samadi said. “Nasserian [Moghiseh] said, ‘This doesn’t count as an interview.’ Nayyeri said, ‘Do you know anyone in the ward who is standing on his support for the MEK.’ I pointed at Nasserian, Lashgari, and Abbasi and said, ‘These people are sick. They want to do something to me.’
“After I said this, Eshraghi said, ‘Will you really do an interview?’ I said that if I wouldn’t do an interview, I would say so. He told me to get out. I returned to the Death Hall, and after a while I was returned to the cell.”
The next time Samadi was taken to the corridor, he was waiting his turn when a phone rang from a room across the office of the Death Commission.
“I saw a person come out of the room and go to the Death Commission’s office. There was a commotion and they started arguing. They didn’t even realize that there was a prisoner in their presence,” Samadi said.
After a few minutes, the door to the Death Commission’s office opened and three people came out.
“They were in a state of confusion. They told all prisoners who had been to the Death Commission twice to stand up. Then they told all prisoners who had been to the commission once to stand up,” Samadi said. “I was thinking to myself, they’re not even going through their own procedure and they want to execute everyone today. They lined us up. I squeezed the shoulder of the prisoner who was in front of me as a sign of farewell.
“The person told us to start walking. We moved and turned toward the Death Corridor that led to the Death Hall. We thought we were being taken for execution. But then they told us to turn and led us to the entrance of the kitchens. There were many prisoners, sitting tightly next to each other. We passed through them. I looked at them through the blindfold and I think they were Marxist prisoners, though I can’t remember any of them.”
Samadi and the other prisoners returned to their cell. “I told the others, I think they’ve started the execution of Marxist prisoners,” Samadi said.
During the hearing, the prosecutor asked Samadi how he recognized Abbasi in the Death Corridor.
“I had previously seen Hamid Abbasi,” Samadi said. “When I was in the Death Corridor, whenever someone would approach, I would look at their shoes. When I felt they couldn’t see me, I would raise my head and completely see the individual and memorize a specific characteristic about that individual. For example, the type of shoe or the color of their pants. I could fully identify an individual when they were approaching or distancing.
“On August 3 when I was in the Death Corridor, I was sitting around the middle, and the prisoners whose names were read out would line up right in front of me. I would clearly see Hamid Abbasi when he was busy reading out names and lining the prisoners up. I have no doubt it was him. On August 3, I saw Hamid Abbasi several times as he was reading out names and those prisoners were taken to the Death Hall. I was just a few meters away from him. Hamid Abbasi was also busy in the Death Hall. His main task was to read out names and take prisoners to the Death Hall.”
As he answered his lawyer’s questions, Samadi provided more details about the how the prisoners felt during the days of the 1988 massacre.
“I felt nervous because I saw my friends being taken to the Death Hall in groups,” Samadi said. “I was very close to some of them and I thought about them for hours. Therefore, I can’t say exactly how many hours I spent in [the Death Corridor]. I thought they would execute all of us. While I wasn’t afraid of death, I didn’t want to play into their hand.”
Samadi’s lawyer asked him how was the spirit of the prisoners when they learned about the executions.
“While they were all ready for death, they had very high spirits,” Samadi said and added that some of the prisoners cheerfully talked and laughed in their final hours.
“I was filled with depression and rage. I couldn’t believe they were being executed,” Samadi said. “On August 6, I heard a noise from the prison’s clinic and I saw them bring Nasser Mansouri.”
Nasser Mansouri was paralyzed from the neck down.
“When they brought him to the Death Corridor, I was shocked. When they carried him away, I thought they had brought him for administrative procedures, but they took him to the Death Hall,” Samadi said. “I had been in prison for seven years and thought I knew the Islamic Republic. I didn’t believe they would execute Nasser Mansouri.”
In February, Samadi was transferred to Evin prison. There, he saw Moghiseh and Noury.
“Although I didn’t show myself to them, Noury saw me and said, ‘You slipped through our fingers. You should have been executed,’” Samadi said.
After his release from prison, Samadi suffered from severe back pain and migraines. Doctors told him that it was the result of the executions.
In his testimony, Samadi also explained that all prison personnel were forced to participate in the executions.
“Hamid Abbasi [Noury] read out a list of prisoners and led them to the Death Hall. He went into the Hall with them,” Samadi said, then added, “It is worth noting that on August 6, Nasserian told Davoud Lashgari, ‘Call everyone. We want to start.’
“The technical staff, clinic personnel, store managers, all of them went to the Death Hall. Even the members of the Death Commission went to the Death Hall and they all participated in the executions, including Nayyeri, the store manager, and the sentries.”
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.