STOCKHOLM (AP) — An Iranian citizen was sentenced Thursday to life imprisonment by a Swedish court after being convicted of committing grave war crimes and murder during the final phase of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
The Stockholm District Court said Hamid Noury took part in severe atrocities in July-August 1988 while working as an assistant to the deputy prosecutor at the Gohardasht prison outside the Iranian city of Karaj.
A life sentence in Sweden generally means a minimum of 20 to 25 years in prison, but it could be extended. If he is eventually released, Noury will be expelled from Sweden. Noury can appeal the verdict.
The court said 61-year-old Noury participated “in the executions of many political prisoners in Iran in the summer of 1988."
The acts were deemed as a serious crime against international law, the court said. A second wave of executions was directed at left-wing sympathizers who were deemed to have renounced their Islamic faith, the court statement said, adding “these acts have been deemed as murder.”
They said Iran’s supreme leader at the time, Ayatollah Khomeini, had issued an execution order for all prisoners in the country who sympathized and remained loyal with the Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, known as MEK.
Due to that order, a large number of prisoners were executed in the Gohardasht prison between July 30 and Aug. 16, 1988, the Swedish prosecutors said.
During the trial that ended May 4, Noury denied wrongdoing.
Judge Tomas Zander said Noury claimed the evidence against him had been "fabricated” by the Mujahedeen who “wrongly accused him of participating in a fabricated course of events for political gains.”
“However, nothing substantial has emerged which gives the court reason to question the investigation’s reliability and robustness,” Zander said.
“We are of course disappointed,” defense lawyers Thomas Söderqvist and Daniel Marcus told the Swedish news agency TT. They said they would appeal the verdict.
Balkees Jarrah, interim international justice director at Human Rights Watch, called the verdict “a meaningful moment" for survivors and the family of the victims.
“The ruling sends a message to the most senior Iranian officials implicated in these crimes that they can’t remain beyond the reach of justice forever," she said.
An online platform MizanPlus that belongs to Iran's judiciary news agency quoted Noury's son Majid as saying, “The Swedish court was not judicial at all, it was political.”
The official Mizan news agency called the sentence “illegal, unfair and without solid evidence” and described Sweden as a “paradise for terrorists.”
In Tehran, foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani strongly condemned the sentence.
“For the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is absolutely certain that the case of Mr. Hamid Noury was only an excuse for a political action without any real citations and legal validity,” he said, adding Iran “holds Sweden responsible for the damages caused to bilateral relations.”
Iran summoned the Swedish envoy to the country and urged the Swedish government to revoke the court verdict and immediately release Nouri, the state-run IRNA news agency said.
The verdict comes at a tense time for ties between Stockholm and Tehran. A number of Europeans were detained in Iran in recent months, including a Swedish tourist, two French citizens, a Polish scientist and others.
The detentions aroused concerns that Iran hoped to leverage the prisoners as bargaining chips to pressure the United States and European nations to grant the sanctions relief it received under its tattered 2015 nuclear accord with world powers.
In 2015, Iran and world powers agreed to the nuclear deal, which saw Tehran drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Under former U.S. President Donald Trump the United States has since unilaterally withdrawn from the accord. Talks in Vienna about reviving the deal have been on a “pause” since March.
Noury was arrested in November 2019 when he arrived in Stockholm and has been in custody since then. Swedish news agency TT said he was lured to Sweden, believing he would go sightseeing, meet women and attend parties.
In line with international practice, Swedish courts may try certain crimes committed abroad if the suspects live or are apprehended in Sweden.
This story corrects the spelling of Mujahedeen.