He was a 28-year-old student and member of a communist group in Iran who was serving a ten-year prison sentence in 1988 when, according to his family, he was summoned to a committee and executed without trial or defense.
Family members said they did not receive the body, a will or the place of a burial site. They received a duffle bag with a wristwatch, a shirt and a certificate that did not state execution as the cause of death.
The student, Bijan Bazargan, was among an estimated 5,000 prisoners belonging to armed opposition and left-wing groups in Iran, which Amnesty International and other rights groups say were executed in the summer of 1988.
A Swedish court will now prosecute a former Iranian legal official for war crimes and murders in connection with Bazargan’s death. The case has some particularly public and damaging consequences for Iran’s incoming president, Ebrahim Raisi, who helped determine which prisoners lived or died during these mass executions.
The accused, Hamid Noury, 59, was charged on Tuesday in Sweden, according to what is called the principle of universal jurisdiction, a principle in international law that theoretically allows all national courts to convict defendants in serious crimes regardless of where they have been. engaged.
The trial against him begins on August 10 – less than a week after Raisi took office nearly 3,000 miles away in Tehran. The trial, which is expected to last until next April, risks revealing new details about Mr Raisi’s role – a period of history that he has tried to minimize or ignore.
Mr Noury served as an assistant to the Deputy Prosecutor at the Gohardasht Prison, where Mr Bazargan and hundreds of prisoners were sent to the gallows.
The mass executions represent one of the most brutal and opaque attacks by the Islamic Republic against its opponents. International rights groups say they are a crime against humanity.
“Some people tell us to forgive and forget, but we can not,” said Laleh Bazargan, Mr. Bazargan’s sister, a 51-year-old pharmacist who migrated to Sweden and lives in Stockholm. “The truth must come forth, for the sake of conclusion and for the sake of responsibility.”
Raisi, 60, was a member of the four-person committee that interrogated prisoners and issued execution orders. Mr Raisi has said he acted under the leadership of the revolution’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had ordered a committee set up to facilitate the executions.
Accusations of Mr Raisi’s work in that committee have overshadowed him through his rise in Iran’s hierarchy, where he had been head of the judiciary before the June election, which elected him president. Amnesty International has called for a formal investigation into Raisi’s past.
Although Raisi will enjoy diplomatic immunity if he travels abroad as the country’s president, the Sweden case could at least confront him with an annoying optics problem when he begins to get involved in the world.
United States, which placed Mr Raisi on a sanctions list two years ago for violating rights, is obliged to grant him a visa as a host country for the UN if he wants to attend the General Assembly in New York in September. Despite this, six Republican senators asked President Biden to deny Mr Raisi and other senior Iranian officials visas for that gathering, the world’s largest diplomatic scene.
Iran’s mission to the UN said through a spokesman that it had no comments on the trial in Sweden and that Raisi’s travel plans for the General Assembly are still unclear due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But Mr Raisi is scheduled to speak at the event, either in person or virtually.
The case against Mr Noury seemed to make him the first Iranian defendant in a criminal case invoking the principle of universal jurisdiction. Iranian officials and agents have been convicted in Germany, France and most recently Belgium for murder and terrorism-related plans in those countries – but never for crimes committed in Iran, legal experts said.
“The trial is extremely important in breaking the cycle of impunity from Iran to elsewhere for officials accused of serious human rights violations,” said Shadi Sadr, a prominent human rights lawyer in London.
In announcing the charges against Noury, Sweden’s prosecutor, Kristina Lindhoff Carleson, said that the “comprehensive investigation that resulted in this indictment shows that even if these acts were committed outside Sweden’s territory and more than three decades ago, they can be the subject of legal proceedings. in Sweden.”
The prosecutor’s statement stated that the accused was suspected of having participated in the mass executions, intentionally taking the lives of prisoners and subjecting them to torture and inhuman treatment. Such acts, Swedish authorities said, violated the Geneva Conventions.
The prisoners were mostly members of an armed opposition group, the Mujahedin Khalq, now commonly known as the MEK, and left-wing political groups. Human rights activists have said that most of the executed prisoners had not been sentenced to death and had served prison sentences.
Mr Noury was arrested at Stockholm Airport when he arrived to visit the family in 2019. Activists had found out about his travel plans and had alerted the authorities who denied him bail. They launched an investigation and interviewed dozens of victims’ family members, survivors and Iranian human rights activists who had been recording testimonies and details of the mass executions for several years.
Mr Noury’s lawyer has told Swedish media that he denies the allegations and that the authorities arrested the wrong man.
The Abdorrahman Boroumand The Foundation, a Washington-based Iran advocacy group named after a pro-democracy Iranian lawyer assassinated in 1991, published a 2010 report on the mass executions in 1988. The report was drafted by a British lawyer who headed an international tribunal on civil war in Sierra Leone.
Roya Boroumand, a daughter of Mr. Boroumand, executive director of the foundation, said its subsequent investigation showed that Mr. Noury, known under the alias Hamid Abbasi, had been the right hand of the deputy prosecutor in Gohardasht prison.
She said Mr Noury and others he had played an active role in interrogating prisoners, preparing the list of names for the so-called death committee and then escorting listed prisoners from their cells blindfolded down a dark hall to a room where committee members, including Mr. Raisi, interrogated them.
The Committee asked prisoners about their political convictions and willingness to condemn comrades and express loyalty to the Islamic Republic. The committee often made a decision on the spot if the prisoners were alive, Boroumand said.
– The significance of the case Sweden is not about one person, it is about the Islamic Republic being brought to justice, says Boroumand. “It will come back to persecute them and hopefully it will prevent the recurrence of such crimes.”
The mass executions took place in Tehran’s Evin Prison and in the Gohardasht Prison in Karaj, about 120 km west of Tehran. In Gohardasht, convicts were hung on pipes in an adjoining area known as Hosseiniyeh, commonly used for religious ceremonies and prayers. The bodies were buried in mass graves in secret places.
About 30 plaintiffs, including Mr. Bazargan’s sister, are expected to testify against Mr. Noury at the trial in Sweden.
Bazargan said she thinks of her brother every day. She was 13 when he was arrested at 23 and had been allowed to visit him once a year until his execution five years later.
In an interview, she remembered him as a protective and caring older brother, who took her to the movies and restaurants and gave her advice about school and friends.
For many years, Bazargan said, she had imagined what she would say if she were confronted with one of the people suspected of being responsible for his execution.
That day is now scheduled for October 19 in a courtroom in Stockholm.
“I want to look him in the eye and say ‘Speak,'” Bazargan said. “Talk about what you did. Talk about what you did to him. Talk about how you killed so many people.”