A former Iranian official being tried in Sweden on charges of complicity in murders of hundreds of prisoners outside Tehran in 1988, typifies the violent nature of the Islamic leaders who took over Iranian institutions 40 years ago.
With the Swedish trial of former Iranian justice official Hamid Nouri, accused of murder and crimes against humanity, the long-held dream of prosecuting the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran for its historic crimes suddenly became a palpable reality. Nouri, who was arrested at Stockholm airport in 2019, is suspected of active involvement in the executions of thousands of detained opponents of Iran's revolutionary regime in mid-1988.
Before this case, the best that aggrieved Iranians could hope for would be to shame the regime with revelations in pseudo-trials or public conferences that lacked juridical validity. With the trial that began in August, the Swedish court is finally giving judicial validity to a movement to bring Nouri to justice, thanks in part to the efforts of Iraj Mesdaqi, a writer and former prisoner from Iran.
The court will provide a new means for checking the sincerity of self-styled reformers and so-called pragmatists, inside Iran and abroad, making it very difficult for anyone to keep sitting on the fence. All will have to clarify whether or not they can recognize and defend truth and justice.
The charges and supporting evidence look likely to send the defendant toward a conviction, with a verdict expected in the spring. Not even the most brazen of the Islamic Republic's courts nor any of its shameless politicians will be able to defend him. Silence will not serve here, as it cannot wipe away the regime's assured disgrace before world opinion.
Horrific conditions in Gohardasht prison
If the regime were to keep quiet over his conviction, it would merely confirm the crimes committed on its behalf in the decade after the 1979 revolution. It could not thus keep a respectable distance from the events related in the court.
From August to late November, the court examined charges against Nouri, and heard the plaintiffs and witnesses in the case. Through more than 40 sessions, prosecutors presented the court with a clear and horrific picture of conditions in the Gohardasht prison, where Nouri worked from July to September 1988.
Nouri then defended himself until December 2. While in principle responding to the first part of the charges made against him, he also showed the thuggish nature of those who took power after the revolution. These same elements remain the regime's support base and rampart to this day.
Many observers and specialists have identified the urban middle class (especially those living in Tehran) as the engine of the 1979 revolution. The standard line is that this class grew and prospered in a bubble in the 1960s and 1970s, though its development could not keep up with its bloated expectations of the regime of the time, a secular monarchy. It wanted more and more, it is said, to the point where it decided only an overhaul of the state could satisfy its exorbitant, socio-political demands. But this same class was not prepared for the costs of the turmoil it would provoke, which led to its immediate disenchantment with the new regime.
A memorial in The Hague to pay tribute to the Iranian political prisoners who were executed in 1988
And the cost of the revolution turned out to be high, far above what a stale bourgeoisie could afford. As bloody clashes erupted between various revolutionary factions in the early months of 1979, the scene was set for the rise of mob rule. The life experiences and values of thugs like Nouri differed from those of the monied middle class, and they were prepared to pay the cost of their ambitions.
Mayhem was grist to their mill, and they soon settled firmly in positions of power. They eliminated the middle class from the state apparatus, and began to exercise power in their own, gruesome way.
His words rather suggest mendacity and mental derangement
Right from the start, such elements showed they were comfortable with violence. Over a decade, they took on the task of purging the country of a host of undesirables on the state's behalf. Beginning work in the "Islamic" judiciary and the vengeful revolutionary courts, they also came to man a good portion of the revolutionary committees that ran the streets in the absence of police and troops, the newly formed Revolutionary Guards and later, the Basij 'morality' militias.
Nouri's responses over six sessions devoted to his defense reveal he was one of those thugs, even if he tries to parade as some kind of civil servant! His stated devotion to the Islamic revolution underpins a four-decade personal history of opportunistic hooliganism.
Gun in hand
His military service in the province of Kurdistan is not related to the charges in the Swedish court, though the way the new regime crushed an insurgency in the region probably gave Nouri a taste for brutality there — before entering the prison service!
He has said repeatedly that he joined the Revolutionary Courts on the advice and recommendations of "friends and neighbors" in working-class, southern Tehran, where he lived. That is how the judicial apparatus, which determined the fates of hundreds of thousands of defenseless Iranians, came to be staffed in the decade after 1979.
Adding insult to injury, Nouri described himself as a conscientious, orderly prison employee. His words rather suggest mendacity and mental derangement. Yet this is not the trial of a single, anti-social element. It paints a picture of Iran's calamitous decline over four decades, and may even provide a lesson for all to carry into the future.
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