Key Witness in Nouri’s Crimes Against Humanity Trial: Conviction Could Lead to Prosecution of President Raisi
“After Nouri Has Been Sentenced, the Pursuit of Others Responsible For the 1988 Massacre Will Commence”
According to the indictment brought by Swedish public prosecutors, Nouri, 60, is accused of “intentionally killing, together with other perpetrators, a large number of prisoners who sympathized with various left-wing groups and who were regarded as apostates” as well as “crimes against humanity.”
In July, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran Javaid Rehman called for an impartial inquiry into the state-ordered mass executions, and the role newly inaugurated Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi played in those executions.
The historic trial against Nouri, which will hear testimonies from dozens of witnesses in 72 sessions, will be the first time that one of the worst crimes committed in the Islamic Republic of Iran will be thoroughly examined and exposed in a court of law.
Iraj Mesdaghi, a former political prisoner and key witness, has been instrumental in helping prosecutors bring the case to trial. Following is an interview by the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) with Mesadaghi that was translated into English from Persian.
CHRI: Take us through the process of how the Swedish judicial system agreed to take jurisdiction over this case.
Mesdaghi: Based on the principle of universal jurisdiction, Swedish authorities believe they have a duty to investigate this crime. They are very determined.
From the very start, some have unknowingly or maliciously spread doubts about this case and predicted Nouri’s early release. They said there’s not going to be a trial. Or they said those who helped get Nouri arrested will themselves be thrown into prison.
Nevertheless, we knew this was a very, very serious case. We even knew about the plan to arrest Nouri the day before he arrived in Sweden. We had talked with the case lawyer and had contacts with the police, who assured us the arrest would take place.
CHRI: What steps led to the arrest?
Mesdaghi: It began with Nouri’s goddaughter and her ties with me. We followed our plan and trapped him. We purchased his travel ticket and reserved a hotel room and as soon as he arrived at the airport [in Stockholm] he was arrested. The Swedish judicial authorities are fully aware of the details.
CHRI: How was it decided to indict Nouri on these charges? Were other charges, such as crimes against humanity, taken into consideration?
Mesdaghi: Crimes against humanity are mentioned in the indictment as a component of violations of international laws and war crimes. This was the highest charge we could bring against Nouri. There are two matters involved, one is war crimes and violations of international laws and regulations, and the second is the intentional murder in connection with the massacre of leftist prisoners on the basis of apostasy.
CHRI: Given that the trial will take place over the course of about eight months, are you not worried that the long process could result in a different outcome than what you are hoping for?
Mesdaghi: No, not at all. If the Swedish police and judicial authorities were not serious about pursuing this case, they would not have put so much money and resources into it. A significant portion of the Swedish police has been tasked with investigating these war crimes.
The prosecutors would not put so much effort into extending Nouri’s detention for so many months if they did not believe in the merits of the case. The Swedish judicial system is insistent on prosecuting this case, even though it has gone as far as causing a diplomatic war.
The other important point is that Sweden’s senior public prosecutor, Ms. Kristina Lindhoff Carleson, has presented her reasons about why she accepted this case and her confidence in the facts and on that basis that the court will ultimately have two choices, either to acquit Nouri or condemn him to life in prison.
One of the most respected criminal investigators in Sweden recently spoke on a news program and said after reading the case against Nouri in detail, it was almost certain he would be sentenced to life imprisonment. Our lawyer has the same opinion and insists on it.
CHRI: Are you optimistic that the court would summon President Ebrahim Raisi as a witness or accomplice in these crimes?
Mesdaghi: This is Hamid Nouri’s trial, not Raisi’s. But there are mentions of Raisi’s name here and there in the case. If Nouri is convicted by this European court, it would set a legal precedent on the basis of universal jurisdiction.
It would also raise the issue of why someone like Nouri has been sentenced to life in prison but his boss at the time [Ebrahim Raisi], who is now the president [of Iran], can travel to Europe or international conferences. It would be like sending an Auschwitz prison guard to jail but allowing the director of the concentration camp to become the president of a country. This is a contradiction that the international legal community will have to face.
CHRI: Could Article 28 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court give Raisi immunity from prosecution as a country’s president?
Mesdaghi: International law grows and expands over time. Seven years ago, we could not have arrested Nouri in Sweden but today we have that right as well as the ability to investigate his crimes in court.
As for Raisi, we believe that after Nouri has been sentenced, the pursuit of others responsible for the 1988 massacre will commence.
CHRI: Who supported you in the legal process and what obstacles did you face?
Mesdaghi: There has been some concern about the obstacles created by the [Iranian opposition group living in exile] Mujahedin-e Khalq [MEK], namely the refusal to allow their members to appear as important witnesses. In its attempt to sabotage the case, the organization went as far as filing a suit against me in the Swedish courts a month after Nouri was arrested. Many have been intentionally creating obstacles out of spite and others have unknowingly followed.
On the other hand, the Iranian community has shown a lot of interest in this case, including a group of 104 intellectuals, authors, and human rights activists, who expressed strong support for putting Nouri on trial.
CHRI: What do we know about the witnesses?
Mesdaghi: The prosecutor has categorized some former Mujaheddin and leftist prisoners as plaintiffs and some as witnesses. Those who lost a family member, regardless of political affiliation, are considered plaintiffs.
From the beginning we have had three lawyers working on this case with the court’s approval. Others tried to enter the case, but the court refused, including a lawyer that was sent on behalf of the Mujaheddin.
CHRI: What is your opinion of the support you have received so far from international organizations?
Mesdaghi: We have to wait until the next stage and see how they will respond. We have to put pressure on them. The UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Iran has not yet shown any reaction to this case, even though it is within his mandate.
The Special Rapporteur did make a statement that the 1988 massacre should be investigated but unfortunately, he has made no direct reference to this trial.
At the same time, Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard has not shown much of a reaction either, even though an opportunity like this to find out the truth about the massacre of political prisoners in 1988 may not arise again for a long time.
Read this article in Persian.