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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Mooney

Swedish court convicts Iranian of international crimes and murder for 1988 Prison Massacres

For his part in the massacre of thousands of political prisoners in Iran in 1988, Hamid Noury has been convicted by the Stockholm District Court of crimes against international law and murder. Handing down its verdict on 14 July, the court sentenced Noury to life imprisonment.

Former prisoners recounted how Noury, a "prosecution" official, had participated in torture, selected prisoners to go before the so-called death committee, and taken them to the killing chamber where they were hung, multiple prisoners at a time. There was no semblance of due process or fair trial.

Women were whipped five times a day for refusing to pray. Many female prisoners reportedly died as a result of torture; others were executed summarily.

Between August and September 1988, thousands of prisoners were brutalised and murdered. The locations of the graves of the victims have not been identified.

This is the first time anyone has been held to account for the atrocity. Noury's criminal conviction as perpetrator of war crimes and murder implicates countless other Iranian officials who acted on Ayatollah Khomeini's July 1988 fatwa ordering the summary execution of prisoners deemed to be dissidents and apostates.

The fatwa was implemented across Iran. In Ghohardasht prison, where Noury was stationed as an assistant prosecutor, the death committee appointed by Khomeini to implement the fatwa included Ebrahim Raisi, who is now the President of Iran. Noury reported directly to the death committee, including Raisi, in carrying out the grave crimes of which he has been convicted.

Noury's conviction for these utterly barbaric crimes is one step on the road to justice for the countless victims, survivors, and grieving relatives. It is undoubtedly of monumental legal and political significance. The court held that the massacres occurred in the context of an international armed conflict, violating international humanitarian law, and amounting to war crimes. The court's ruling clearly establishes that suspected perpetrators and conspirators of the prison massacres can be prosecuted in third countries under universal jurisdiction principles decades later.

The crux of the Stockholm court's judgment is limited to Noury's criminal culpability. However, in general terms, the systematic torture and murder of so many thousands of prisoners, on the direct orders of the regime, in multiple prisons across Iran, could only have been effected by the participation and complicity of scores of officials, functionaries and co-conspirators. All states have legal obligations under international law to investigate, and prosecute or extradite, other suspects of these grave crimes who come within their jurisdiction.

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