STOCKHOLM, July 14 — A Swedish court today handed a life sentence to former Iranian prison official Hamid Noury for crimes committed during a 1988 purge of dissidents, in the first trial related to the mass executions.

Noury, 61, was convicted of a “serious crime against international law” and “murder”, the Stockholm district court said in a statement.

“The sentence is life imprisonment.” According to the court, Noury was an assistant prosecutor in a prison near Tehran at the time of the events.

“The investigation has shown that the accused, jointly and in collusion with others, participated in the commission of the criminal acts,” the court said.

“He has, under an alias and in the role of assistant to the deputy prosecutor, retrieved prisoners, brought them to the committee and escorted them to the execution site.”

The proceedings, which have been running since August 2021, have strained relations between Sweden and Iran, raising concerns about reprisals against Western prisoners held by the Islamic regime.

Two Swedish-Iranian citizens are on death row.

The case related to the killing of at least 5,000 prisoners across Iran, allegedly ordered by supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

The killings were to avenge attacks carried out by exiled opposition group the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK) at the end of the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88.

Noury was sentenced both for his role in the killings targeting the MEK and for participating in a second wave directed at “left-wing sympathisers who were deemed to have renounced their Islamic faith,” the court said.

The charge of “a serious crime against international law” related to the first wave and the “murder” charge related to the second.

‘We won this time’ Throughout the nine months of hearings, Noury, often theatrical and smiling, rejected the testimony of former detainees.

He argued that he was on leave during the period in question, and said he worked in another prison. Noury denounced the accusations as a plot by the MEK to discredit the Islamic Republic.

Noury’s lawyer Thomas Soderqvist told AFP they were “disappointed”, and that they would now review the verdict.

“The sentence will be appealed,” Soderqvist added.

Noury was arrested at a Stockholm airport in November 2019 after Iranian dissidents in Sweden filed police complaints against him.

During the trial, which briefly relocated to Albania to hear testimony at the end of 2021, MEK supporters protested loudly outside the Stockholm courthouse, and a few hundred had gathered ahead of the verdict.

“We won this time,” protesters chanted as they cheered and waved flags after the verdict.

“This is a great day for me, a great day for all the victims’ families,” Mehri Emrani, a 61-year-old MEK supporter who served in prison herself and whose husband was a plaintiff, told AFP.

“This is not only against Hamid Noury, this decision is against the whole regime in Iran,” Kenneth Lewis, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told reporters on the steps of the courthouse.

The trial has rendered Stockholm’s already chilly relations with Tehran even frostier.

This is partly because rights activists accuse senior Iranian officials now in power—including current President Ebrahim Raisi—of having been members of the committees that handed down the death sentences.

The so-called “death committees” are thought to have sent at least 5,000 to be executed. The MEK puts the figure as high as 30,000 victims.

Raisi himself has denied ever having been part of these committees.

‘Hostage’

Tehran has repeatedly called on the Swedish government for Hamid Noury’s release.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde reaffirmed to her Iranian counterpart in early July that the government was unable to do anything as the Nordic country’s courts are “completely independent”.

Concerned about a recent spate of arrests of Europeans in the country “for no apparent reason”, Sweden has been advising citizens against travel to Iran since late June.

The main concern is the Iranian-Swedish academic Ahmadreza Djalali. Sentenced to death in Iran in 2017 on espionage charges, and currently awaiting the sentence to be carried out.

Amnesty International has accused Tehran of holding him “hostage” in an attempt to force an exchange with Noury and a former Iranian diplomat sentenced to 20 years in prison in Belgium, Assadollah Assadi.

A controversial treaty is being considered by the Belgian parliament that would allow the exchange of prisoners with Iran. — AFP