Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran



Landmark Hamid Nouri Verdict Upheld: Justice Prevails Amidst Denial
Wrangel Palace, Stockholm, location of the Svea Court of Appeals
On December 19, 2023, the Svea Court of Appeal in Sweden announced its verdict in the Hamid Nouri case, emphasizing the importance of unveiling the truth and acknowledging the tireless quest of victims and their families to make the international community aware of and hold Iran accountable for a massacre hidden for decades. Hamid Nouri, former Gohardasht Prison Assistant Prosecutor, was sentenced to life imprisonment for grave violations of international humanitarian law and 24 murders committed during the summer of 1988 in Iran, in large part affirming the historic judgment under universal jurisdiction on July 14th, 2022 by the Stockholm District Court [1].
“Our assessment is that the prosecutor’s case is robust and overall compelling and that the district court was correct to find the prosecutor’s charges largely substantiated… The main body of evidence in the case is built on extensive oral testimony with plaintiffs and witnesses that have made observations of dramatic events more than 30 years ago, which makes the case rather unique in a national context.”
- Robert Green, Court of Appeal Judge and reporting judge [2]
This landmark case sought accountability for the massacre of political prisoners across Iran. Nouri faced charges related to his role in the brutal events of 1988, when thousands of political prisoners were subjected to religious inquisition by Death Committees following a secret fatwa by then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini. Despite official narratives framing the killings as a response to an armed offensive by the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) organization at the end of the Iran-Iraq war on July 26-30, 1988, many victims were serving prison sentences and some had no affiliation with the MEK or any other armed groups. Families were left uninformed about the location of mass graves [3], perpetuating a culture of silence and denial. 

State disinformation regarding the 1988 massacre, survivors and plaintiffs, and human rights groups that documented the crime has continued throughout both of the trials and their aftermath. Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian urged Sweden to release Nouri [4], while other Iranian officials labeled the verdict as politically motivated [5]. In the wake of the appeal decision, Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani accused the Swedish judiciary of “siding with the terrorist groups that have been engaged in the most heinous terrorist and inhumane acts” [6]. 

There is also enough evidence to justify an international investigation regarding the role of current Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in these executions [7]. At the time, Raisi was the assistant prosecutor and a member of the Death Committee which decided on each prisoner’s life and death [8]. These panels, composed of judicial and intelligence officials, secretly sent to the gallows four to five thousand prisoners across Iran, most of whom had already been sentenced to prison terms. The secrecy and silence around an international crime of such scope further underscores the significance of the trial.
Critical reactions have not been limited to Iranian officials. Tomas Bodström, the former Minister of Justice in Sweden and Hamid Nouri’s defense attorney stated, “[I]s this what we should have our legal system for? It has very unfortunate consequences if we are to convict people who have worked as administrators or guards for murder…This has nothing to do with Sweden” [9].

Hamid Nouri, who in fact had a decision-making role in choosing which prisoner to send before the panel in Gohardasht Prison, was prosecuted under the principle of universal jurisdiction in Sweden. This legal principle in international law acknowledges the gravity of certain crimes – crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, and torture – by asserting the obligation of any nation to claim criminal jurisdiction to prosecute these crimes, irrespective of the location of the offense or the nationality of the perpetrator or victim, country of residence or any other relation with the prosecuting entity. 

The trial in Sweden showcased the stark contrast between an independent court following international law and Iran's judiciary, characterized by failures of due process and blatant disrespect for human rights norms. Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran (ABC) played a pivotal role in documenting the crimes investigated in this trial and in advocating for justice [10]. This legal outcome is part of a decades-long quest for accountability and serves as a warning to the Islamic Republic authorities that the days of burying crimes beneath mass graves are over.
“This verdict exposes the length to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is willing to go to hide the existence of dissent and prevent any challenge to their monopoly on power. We are grateful to the Swedish prosecutors and judges who made this day possible with their integrity and hard work” said ABC Executive Director Roya Boroumand.

While the case may still be appealed to the Supreme Court, where there is a low probability it will be accepted [11], the decisions from Swedish courts underscore the significance of documenting and revealing the truth and paving the path for other nations to hold Iran accountable for its criminal atrocities. The journey toward justice continues, and ABC is convinced that by exposing this unprecedented crime and acknowledging the harm done to thousands of family members and survivors, Sweden has taken a significant step in freeing them from the haunting memories of the past and helping their healing process.

[1] While the Court of Appeal found a significant number of executions substantiated, some charges were dismissed due to insufficient evidence. Nevertheless, the Court of Appeal ruled that the act constituted grave breaches of international humanitarian law. For more background on the case, see Abdorrahman Boroumand Center’s June 2022 newsletter: https://www.iranrights.org/newsletter/issue/126

[2] https://www.domstol.se/svea-hovratt/nyheter/2023/12/the-svea-court-of-appeal-announces-verdict-in-a-case-about-grave-breaches-of-international-humanitarian-law-and-murder-in-iran-in-1988/ 

[3] https://www.iranrights.org/library/document/562/iran-preserve-the-khavaran-grave-site-for-investigation-into-mass-killings 

[4] https://www.tehrantimes.com/news/478601/Iran-seeks-Hamid-Nouri-s-urgent-release-cautions-of-repercussions 

[5] https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/swedish-court-verdict-iran-prison-executions-trial-due-thursday-2022-07-14/ 

[6] https://www.tehrantimes.com/news/492745/Iran-denounces-Swedish-verdict-against-Hamid-Nouri#:~:text=Nouri%20was%20given%20a%20life,living%20in%20exile%20around%20Europe.

[7] https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/exclusive-un-expert-backs-probe-into-irans-1988-killings-raisis-role-2021-06-29/. Raisi is under sanction by the US, in part reated to his role in the 1988 massacre, see https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm824 

[8] https://www.iranrights.org/library/document/3165 

[9] https://www.expressen.se/nyheter/sverige/bodstroms-kritik-efter-dom-mot-khomeinis-bodel/ 

[10] See ABC reports, https://www.iranrights.org/library/document/1380/the-massacre-of-political-prisoners-in-iran-1988-report-of-an-inquiry, https://www.iranrights.org/attachments/library/doc_361.pdf, and the complaint in the case of Hamid Nouri https://www.iranrights.org/library/document/3955 

[11] For the Supreme Court to consider an appeal, it must be of importance for the guidance of legal application. Simplified, this means there should be a need for the Supreme Court to provide answers to uncertainties in legislation or how it should be applied in certain cases. Furthermore, the Supreme Court may consider an appeal for exceptional reasons. This primarily applies to situations involving retrials or cases where a court has committed a serious error in handling the matter. Over 100 permissions to appeal are granted yearly out of the 7,500 appeals submitted to the Supreme Court. For more info, see https://www.domstol.se/hogsta-domstolen/