Human Rights Must Be Front and Center in Europe’s Iran Policy
Hamid Noury, a former Iranian regime official, has been incarcerated in Sweden since November 2019. He had traveled to Sweden for personal reasons but was arrested on charges of torture and crimes against humanity back in Iran.
Noury’s provisional incarceration term is renewed every month by a judge to allow the investigation into his past to take its course.
Hamid Noury is known in Iran for his role in the gruesome massacre of political prisoners in 1988 on the orders of Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s then-supreme leader. Based on a fatwa (religious decree) issued by Khomeini, at least 30,000 political prisoners who were already serving time on sentences announced years earlier were summarily executed. They faced show trials that last several minutes and were asked if they still supported a prominent opposition group. Many answered yes and were executed.
The interrogation sessions, referred to in Iran as “death commissions,” barely lasted more than a few minutes, and the prisoners overwhelmingly revealed their sympathy for the opposition movement.
Having been promoted from a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to a deputy prosecutor for the death commissions, Hamid Noury was responsible for leading people to their executions in Gohardahst Prison near Tehran. At times, he even personally hanged people.
He probably would never have thought that more than three decades later he would be held accountable for the crimes he committed. Moreover, survivors of the massacre readily testified against him after he was arrested in Sweden.
The trial is scheduled to commence in February. It is the first time that a regime official is being prosecuted for the 1988 massacre, and so it marks an important turning point.
Noury’s case is being made public at a crucial moment. After years of relative silence by the international community regarding the 1988 massacre, seven UN special rapporteurs made public a letter they had written to Iranian authorities in September 2020. In their letter, the mandate holders warned the Iranian regime that unless they receive satisfactory answers, the case would be investigated by independent delegations on grounds of crimes against humanity.
Not surprisingly, no answer was received, as the most prominent members of the death commission in 1988 continue to occupy the highest seats in the Iranian judiciary.
The judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, was among the lead members of Tehran’s death commission. The current minister of justice, Alireza Avayie, was an influential member of the death commission in the southern city of Ahwaz.
Three decades of international inaction has evidently made the perpetrators feel a certain level of impunity. They do not even deny their roles in the massacre. The Iranian regime not only systematically praises those who took part in the 1988 executions, but it also considers the fatwa to have an extremely long shelf life. That means that as long as anyone sympathizes with the opposition, they can be arrested and executed.
According to the UN rapporteurs’ recent letter, “Official media outlets in Iran frequently publish distressing statements from high-level officials glorifying the executions and describing the perpetrators as ‘national heroes’ and call any public criticism or documentation of the killings as support for terrorism.”
Those officials feel safe in their past and present actions. But a clear case of crimes against humanity is before the eyes of the world, and likely to be investigated soon.
On December 9, the European Union issued a statement on the EU’s position for crimes against humanity and genocide. It reads: “The EU will continue to protect the rights of victims to justice and reparation. The new EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime is a landmark agreement in this regard. It allows the EU to target individuals, entities, and bodies responsible for serious human rights violations and abuses, including genocide and crimes against humanity.”
Thus, with Hamid Noury’s trial, there finally seems to be hope for holding accountable known perpetrators of such crimes in Iran.
The Swedish court might take several weeks, if not months, to shed adequate light on the crimes committed thirty years ago in Iran. But the EU does not have to wait that long. They can bring forward these crimes against humanity, which have been ignored for far too long, asking the mullahs for answers before any meaningful negotiations on other issues can follow.