Hamid Nouri: How Sweden arrested a suspected Iranian war criminal

By Joshua Nevett
BBC News, Published on 5 September

In the arrivals terminal of Stockholm Arlanda Airport, Swedish police were expecting someone significant.

On board a flight from Iran, they were told, was an alleged war criminal, an Iranian official named Hamid Nouri.

Unknown to him, police had been tipped off. Mr Nouri walked off the plane on 9 November 2019 and straight into custody.

A short time later, a Swedish official made a phone call to deliver a message: “You can go home now.”

The recipient of the call had been at the airport, nervously waiting for confirmation of the arrest. He was one of several people whose actions had made the arrest possible.

In interviews with the BBC, they each explained their role in an extraordinary case, of significance in Iran and internationally.

Never before has anyone been criminally prosecuted over the mass execution and torture of political prisoners in Iran in 1988. Mr Nouri was arrested and later charged over his alleged role, which he denies.

They invoked the international legal principle of universal jurisdiction to arrest Mr Nouri. He is currently on trial in Sweden.

These crimes were allegedly committed during the war between Iran and Iraq. As the war neared its end, Iran’s then supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, ordered the execution of about 5,000 political prisoners.

Many were linked to the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, an opposition group allied to Iraq.

At the time, Mr Nouri was working in a prison near Tehran, prosecutors say.

A courtroom sketch shows Iranian defendant Hamid Nouri sitting in the District Court of Stockholm
The trial of Mr Nouri (second from the left) at Stockholm’s district court opened in August

The case could raise uncomfortable questions for Iran’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi, who Amnesty International has named as a member of a “death commission” involved in the 1988 massacre.

It is also a watershed moment for human rights activists who have long campaigned for justice over the executions. Among them is Iraj Mesdaghi, a former Iranian political prisoner who survived the 1988 massacre.

He says he witnessed unspeakable crimes while imprisoned in Iran.

Etched into his memory, his experiences during that period have shaped his life since he left Iran in the 1990s. From abroad, he has been investigating human rights abuses in Iran ever since, hoping for a chance to bring the alleged perpetrators to justice.

When a potential opportunity arose in October 2019, he acted without hesitation.

Supporters of an Iranian opposition group protest outside Stockholm's district court in Sweden
A large protest was held outside the courtroom in Stockholm on the day Mr Nouri’s trial began

Out of the blue, a source contacted Mr Mesdaghi with some information. An Iranian named Hamid Nouri was planning a trip to Sweden, the source said.

Mr Mesdaghi was familiar with the name. He knew exactly who to call.

Kaveh Moussavi is an experienced British-Iranian human rights lawyer. One conversation with Mr Mesdaghi and a meeting in London were all it took to convince Mr Moussavi to take on the case.

Years previously, he had informally agreed to help Mr Mesdaghi prosecute those responsible for the 1988 massacre in the West, should it be possible to do so.

Now, Mr Moussavi had to uphold his end of the bargain.

“The question was how to organise this with Swedish authorities and not let the cat out of the bag,” Mr Moussavi said.

Some 800 portraits of victims of the 1988 massacre displayed in Paris in 2019
Iranian opposition activists commemorated execution victims in Paris in 2019

With the support of other lawyers, Mr Moussavi gathered witness testimony and prepared a criminal complaint. Meanwhile the source behind the tip-off – who did not wish to be named – shared details of Mr Nouri’s travel plans.

Mr Nouri was coming to Sweden for family reasons, but was led to believe he would be taking an extended trip to several European countries and a cruise as well, the source said.

Once the date of his flight was known, Mr Moussavi submitted his complaint to Swedish prosecutors.

The next step was the arrest, which Mr Moussavi was confident would be done under the rules of universal jurisdiction.

Universal jurisdiction rests on the idea that a national court can prosecute anyone for atrocities, regardless of where they were committed. For human rights lawyers, the concept has proved useful in holding war criminals to account.

The 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, the former Nazi bureaucrat who was prosecuted in Israel over his role in the Holocaust, is perhaps the most famous example. More recently, a German court convicted a former Syrian secret police officer for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity.

On 9 November, 2019, the principle would be exercised again, this time by Swedish prosecutors.

Hamid Nouri at the airport in Iran before he boarded his flight
Mr Nouri has denied the charges against him and insisted the allegations are a case of mistaken identity

“Until he was arrested I couldn’t believe it,” Mr Mesdaghi said.

Those doubts were put to rest by prosecutors. They would call Mr Mesdaghi to testify at Mr Nouri’s trial, which started almost two years later, on 10 August.

In court, Mr Mesdaghi recalled his experiences in Gohardasht Prison during the mass executions of 1988. He and other witnesses have implicated Mr Nouri.

On the contrary, his lawyers argue, Mr Nouri has been confused with someone else. They have questioned the credibility of the witnesses and their recollection of alleged events 30 years ago.

When the trial concludes in April 2022, the judges will decide which arguments convince them the most.

Nazi trial: 100-year-old SS guard in court in Germany

Published: 7 October by BBC

A 100-year-old former security guard of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp appears in the courtroom before his trial at the Landgericht Neuruppin court in Brandenburg, Germany, 7 October 2021
Image caption,Josef S, who was 21 when he first became a guard at Sachsenhausen in 1942, appears in court

Seventy-six years after the end of World War Two, a former concentration camp guard has gone on trial for assisting in the murder of 3,518 prisoners at Sachsenhausen near Berlin.

Josef S is accused of complicity in the shooting of Soviet prisoners of war and the murder of others with Zyklon B gas.

Time is running out for Nazi-era criminals to face justice and he is the oldest defendant so far to stand trial.

It was only in recent years that lower-ranking Nazis were brought to trial.

Ten years ago, the conviction of former SS guard John Demjanjuk set a precedent enabling prosecutors to charge people for aiding and abetting Nazi crimes in World War Two. Until then, direct participation in murder had to be proven.

Identified as Josef S, because of German privacy laws, the defendant was led into a specially adapted sports hall at a prison in Brandenburg an der Havel, where the trial began amid strict security.

He arrived outside the court in a wheelchair, clutching a briefcase, and entered with the aid of a walking frame. He shielded his face with a blue file to stop photographers getting a view.

Josef S has lived in the Brandenburg area for years, reportedly as a locksmith, and has not spoken publicly about the trial.

His lawyer, Stefan Waterkamp, told the court that the defendant would make no comment at the trial on the allegations against him. He would, however, speak about his personal circumstances at Friday’s hearing.

Josef S was 21 when he first became a guard at Sachsenhausen in 1942. Now almost 101, he is considered able to appear in court for up to two and half hours a day. The trial is due to continue until January.

Public prosecutor Cyrill Klement told the court of the systematic killings at Sachsenhausen between 1941 and 1945. “The defendant supported this knowingly and willingly – at least by conscientiously carrying out guard duty, which was perfectly integrated into the killing regime.”

Tens of thousands of people died at the camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, including resistance fighters, Jews, political opponents, homosexuals and prisoners of war.

A gas chamber was installed at Sachsenhausen in 1943 and 3,000 people were massacred at the camp as the war drew to a close because they were “unfit to march”. The prosecutor gave details of mass shootings and murders by gas, as well as through disease and exhaustion.

Holocaust survivor Leon Schwarzbaum holds a picture in the courtroom during a trial against a 100-year-old former security guard of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, at the Landgericht Neuruppin court in Brandenburg, Germany, October 7, 2021
,Leon Schwarzbaum survived Sachsenhausen as well as Auschwitz and Buchenwald

Thursday’s trial was especially important for 17 co-plaintiffs, who include survivors of Sachsenhausen.

Christoffel Heijer was six years old when he last saw his father: Johan Hendrik Heijer was one of 71 Dutch resistance fighters shot dead at the camp.

“Murder isn’t destiny; it’s not a crime that can be legally erased by time,” he told Berliner Zeitung.

Leon Schwarzenbaum, who is a 100-year-old survivor of Sachsenhausen, said this was the “last trial for my friends and acquaintances and my loved ones who were murdered” and he hoped it would end in a final conviction.

There was widespread frustration at Josef S’s refusal to give evidence.

“For the survivors this is yet another rejection, just like it was in the camp. You were vermin,” said Christoph Heubner of the International Auschwitz Committee.

Thomas Walther, the lawyer acting for the co-plaintiffs, said he was not surprised but hoped he would change his mind.

Most Nazi camp guards will not face trial.

Bruno Dey holds a folder in front of his face in court on 23 July 2020
Image caption,Nazi SS guard Bruno Dey was convicted last year of complicity in 5,000 murders

There were 3,000 guards at Stutthof concentration camp alone, and only 50 were convicted. Bruno Dey was convicted of complicity in mass murder there last year and given a suspended sentence,

Only last week, a Nazi secretary at the Stutthof camp, Irmgard Furchner, was due to go on trial north of Hamburg but escaped from a nursing home hours beforehand.

She was eventually caught in Hamburg and her trial was rescheduled for 19 October. She was released from custody earlier this week.

Trial over murder of ‘Africa’s Che Guevara’ opens in Burkina Faso

(CNN) – The trial of 14 people accused of plotting to assassinate Burkina Faso’s former president Thomas Sankara started on Monday, more than 30 years after he was gunned down in one of the most infamous killings in modern African history.

Sankara – a charismatic Marxist revolutionary widely known as “Africa’s Che Guevara” – was killed in 1987 during a coup led by his former ally Blaise Compaore.

Compaore, the main defendant, was charged in absentia in April with complicity in the murder. He is living in exile in neighboring Ivory Coast and has always denied any involvement in Sankara’s death.
“It is a moment we have been waiting for,” Sankara’s widow, Mariam Sankara, told journalists as she arrived at the hearing.

She told the BBC earlier on Monday she was hoping the trial would shed light on the deaths of 12 other people on the day of the coup.

“It is important to all these families,” she said. “This trial is needed so that the culture of impunity and violence that still rages in many African countries, despite the democratic facade, stops indefinitely.”

Compaore’s former head of security, Hyacinthe Kafando, is also being tried in his absence. Twelve other defendants are due to appear in front of military tribunal in the Ouaga2000 conference center in Ouagadougou. They have pleaded not guilty.

More than 100 journalists from across the world packed into the conference center at the start of the hearing.
Thomas Sankara seized power in a 1983 coup at the age of 33 with promises to tackle corruption and the dominance of former colonial powers.

The former fighter pilot was one of the first African leaders to raise awareness about the growing AIDS epidemic. He publicly denounced the World Bank’s structural adjustment programs and banned female circumcision and polygamy.
Sankara won public support with his modest lifestyle, riding to work on a bicycle during his time as a minister and selling the government’s fleet of Mercedes vehicles when he was president.

But critics said his reforms curtailed freedoms and left ordinary people in the landlocked West African country little better off. Compaore had previously said that Sankara jeopardized foreign relations with former colonial power France, and with neighbor Ivory Coast.

Compaore moved to Ivory Coast after he was himself overthrown in 2014. His lawyers said on Friday that he would not attend the trial, and Ivory Coast has refused to extradite him.