The seventy-second session of the trial of Hamid Noury, AKA Hamid Abbasi, a former Iranian judiciary official (Dadyar) accused of involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in Gohardasht Prison in the summer of 1988, was held in a Stockholm court. An Australian-British lawyer, Jeffrey Robertson, who prepared a detailed report on these killings in collaboration with the Boroumand Foundation, testified in court during this session; this report is one of the most critical documents in Hamid Nouri’s trial.
Nouri not only denies working in Gohardasht Prison, but also claims that there is no prison by that name in Iran. The Islamic Republic’s judiciary maintains the same. In this report, Zamaneh refutes these claims, citing a variety of documents including a book published by the Kayhan Institute’s research office, an institution close to Ali Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Zamaneh investigated the history of Gohardasht or Rajaei Shahr Prison and found that a newspaper close to the office of the supreme leader published a document showing that Rajaei Shahr prison is still known as Gohardasht, and that a person named “Abbasi” (the pseudonym of the accused who is on trial in Stockholm) used to work there.
One of the most critical disputes in Noury’s trial is the name of Gohardasht Prison, also known as Rajaei Shahr Prison. The judiciary-run news agency, Mizan News, has published a video on the trial that also covers the conflict over the name of this prison.
Why are Hamid Noury and the Iranian judiciary rejecting Gohardasht as the name of this prison, and why is it necessary to investigate the history of the name of this prison?
The source of this denial is related to the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988: accepting the name Gohardasht equates to acknowledging these crimes. Because the Islamic Republic is unwilling to accept this history, it obscures reality and denies these events. This report will address the history of this prison and its names based on historical documents and various sources, including the Iranian government.
History of Gohardasht or Rajaei Shahr Prison
Gohardasht Prison is located in the Gohardasht (Rajai Shahr) neighborhood in Karaj, Alborz Province. While the Gohardasht neighborhood was renamed Rajaei Shahr after the Islamic Revolution, locals still refer to it by its original name. The name Rajaei Shahr is so infrequently used in this region that the municipality of Karaj has to use the name Gohardasht in official maps or, at the very least, also include it when it is written as Rajaei Shahr.
According to a document published by the Islamic Parliament Research Center, the name of the Gohardasht neighborhood was officially changed to Rajaei Shahr on 20 February 1989 (after the mass executions) by a decree issued by the then Prime Minister, Mir Hossein Mousavi. The name of the neighborhood was changed in 1989, citing Article 13 of the Law on Definitions and Criteria of Country Divisions, which was passed in 1983. However, the exact date that Gohardasht Prison was renamed is unknown.
The Gohardasht (Rajaei Shahr) Prison construction project began in the last years of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi’s monarchy and was completed in 1982, after the revolution. Unlike Evin Prison, this prison includes many solitary confinement cells and interconnected buildings.
Gohardasht (Rajaei Shahr) Prison has a capacity of 3,000 prisoners and was known as a place for political prisoners in the 1980s. It later became a place for those who committed dangerous crimes like murder and drug-related offenses in Tehran and Alborz provinces, though it did not have a separate ward for the many political prisoners who were transferred there. Special wards were created to detain political prisoners only following the 2009 disputed election in Iran and massive protests.
This prison has a long history of human rights violations, with numerous reports of torture, solitary confinement, ill-treatment, rape, execution, and lack of adequate facilities. Due to these serious human rights abuses, in January 2018 the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned this prison under the name “Rajaei Shahr” as well as Iranian national Gholamreza Ziaei, the prison director at the time.
According to the statement by the U.S. Treasury, “Many Iranians who recently protested against their government are imprisoned at Rajaei Shahr, a facility where prisoners participating in hunger strikes are denied medical care; where there are reported incidents of sexual abuse and unlawful executions; and where at least one prisoner had his eye gouged out by prison officials. Gholamreza Ziaei has served as the director of Rajaei Shahr Prison since October 2017.”
The European Union also imposed sanctions on Gohardasht (Rajaei Shahr) Prison, along with Evin and Fashafoyeh prisons, for the repression and murder of protesters during the 2019 Iranian protests, also known as Bloody November.
Currently, prisoners are sent to Gohardasht (Rajai Shahr) Prison as it is the site for executions in Tehran and Alborz provinces.
What did Hamid Noury say during the police interrogation?
During the first and second rounds of his defense, which took place in November 2021 and March 2022, Hamid Noury completely denied the existence of a prison by the name of Gohardasht in Iran. On the first day of his defense, Tuesday, November 23, 2021, he responded to the plaintiffs and witnesses who testified that they had seen Hamid Abbasi (Noury) in Gohardasht Prison by saying that “if anyone in Iran mentions Gohardasht Prison, they would be ridiculed.”
Despite the fact that Hamid Nouri claims that the name Gohardasht Prison is a historical fabrication, he used that name more than 50 times during 34 sessions of interrogations by the Swedish Police. He even explained the history behind the name of the prison changing from Gohardasht to Rajaei Shahr.
According to the transcript of Nouri’s interrogation on November 28, 2019, he repeatedly used the name Gohardasht Prison instead of Rajai Shahr. For example, when the police asked him to discuss Evin and Gohardasht prisons he first said that the name of this prison was Rajai Shahr and that it is located in Gohardasht. Then, in response to questions from the police asking him to explain the conditions of Evin and Gohardasht prisons, he used the name Gohardasht Prison, saying, “the distance from Evin Prison to Gohardasht Prison is about 100 kilometers.”
During that interrogation, the police asked Noury questions about how he used to get to work every day and Noury gave detailed explanations of the location of Gohardasht Prison, the route to get there, the prison walls, the entrance door, and more. Throughout this session, he once again referred to the prison by the name Gohardasht; he emphasized that his description was of Gohardasht Prison and not Evin Prison, and the police responded that they realized the focus of the conversation was on Gohardasht Prison.
The Swedish Police also asked Noury questions about whether political prisoners were kept in separate wards in Gohardasht Prison. He explained that in Evin Prison, anti-government prisoners were kept separate from other prisoners, saying that “because it was that way in Evin Prison, it is possible that it was the same in Gohardasht Prison,” again using the name Gohardasht.
Noury also said in the course of this interrogation that he “has only been to Rajaei Shahr or Gohardasht Prison seven or eight times.”
Based on what he said in these interrogations, it is clear that Noury knows the prison by the names of both Gohardasht and Rajaei Shahr.
In another interrogation session on December 10, 2019, the police began interrogating Nouri with the following question:
- “You said in previous interrogations that you were probably in Gohardasht Prison, possibly twice in 1988. Do you still adhere to this statement?”
- “Yes. I said probably.”
Despite admitting to his statements from the police interrogations, Noury denied the existence of a prison named Gohardasht on the second day of his trial. He claimed that using the name Gohardasht was one of the tactics used to disrupt his focus and distract him, saying:
“I am vigilant, very smart, and intelligent. I did not fall into this trap; a series of words were incorrectly stated. I, as an Iranian, must say, we neither had an organization in Iran called the Mojahedin nor a prison by the name of Gohardasht. If I say otherwise, I will be imprisoned for fabrication and forgery as soon as I return to Iran. Please understand my situation; if I mention the Mojahedin, I will be arrested as soon as I arrive. The Iranian judiciary is extremely serious and lawful. I have mentioned the names of Mojahedin and Gohardasht in my interrogations, and now I am scared. When I reach Iran, I will 100 percent be arrested. I have no doubt.” Noury said in his trial on November 25, 2021.
The below is part of an exchange between Noury and the prosecutor during the second day of his defense:
- Prosecutor: “You said you worked in Evin, but you were going to Gohardasht for assignments. Do you know how many times you went there from 1986-1990?”
- Noury: “I did not go to Gohardasht Prison. If you mean Rajaei Shahr, I can answer the question. If we say Gohardasht, it means that I have accepted that name and I could be punished. Please understand (my situation), ma’am.”
In another interrogation session on February 19, 2020, Noury talked about the prisons in Tehran province in the 1980s. He mentioned Gohardasht as one of these prisons and explained, “this prison has another name, Rajaei Shahr.”
On May 7, 2020, Noury stated in a session that a woman was taken to Rajaei Shahr Prison, and also acknowledged that Rajaei Shahr Prison was also called Gohardasht Prison.
In a different session, he said that whenever he used the name Rajaei Shahr, he meant Gohardasht Prison.
On the third, fourth, and fifth days of his defense in November 2021, Noury only used the current name of the prison, Rajaei Shahr, and did not use the name Gohardasht at all.
Noury denied the existence of Gohardasht Prison during the eight days of his first and second rounds of defense and rejected his statements from the police interrogation.
Islamic Republic Official Documents on Gohardasht (Rajaei Shahr) Prison
There is limited documented information on the history of Gohardasht (Rajaei Shahr) Prison, despite the fact that it is one of the most important, prominent, and notorious prisons in Iran. However, some of the limited documents, news reports, books, and memoirs about this prison still refer to it as “Gohardasht.”
Kayhan is one of the ultra-conservative newspapers in Iran; the supreme leader himself selected its editor-in-chief, Hossein Shariatmadari. In August 2016, this newspaper published several reports on the mass executions of prisoners in the summer of 1988, all of which referred to the prison name as Gohardasht. One of these reports from August 23 also mentioned a person named “Abbasi,” who was an assistant to Naserian (Mohammad Moghiseh), the Dadyar for Gohardasht Prison.
Noury admitted in court that he worked in Evin Prison under the name Hamid Abbasi but claimed that he had never worked in Gohardasht (Rajaei Shahr) Prison. He accused the witnesses who testified that they had seen him working in Gohardasht Prison of lying.
Liberation from Illusion, a memoir of a former MEK member published by the Kayhan publishing house, mentioned Abbasi and his boss, Naserian:
“In the middle of 1986, Mr. Naserian became the assistant Dadyar at Gohardasht Prison. Upon his arrival, many cases were opened, and the process of pardoning and giving leave to prisoners restarted. Up until that point, Imam Khomeini’s pardon committee had visited some prisons, including Gohardasht several times, but not much had come from it. With the arrival of Naserian, things accelerated. He frequently met with the prisoners in their cells and the mosque, listening patiently and attentively to their demands and taking notes. He had an assistant named Abbasi, who was friendly with the prisoners. Abbasi was young and friendly; he often chatted and had fun with the inmates indoors or participated in various games and sports. When Naserian was not present, the prisoners would pass their requests to him.”
Kayhan published another report on August 22, 2016, “Claims of the massacre of tens of thousands of people in a prison with less than 2000 prisoners!” This report, which criticized Iraj Mesdaghi’s books and tried to find discrepancies in the number of prisoners held in this prison, used the name Gohardasht Prison six times.
Former president of Iran Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani referred to Gohardasht Prison in his memoirs. He wrote in Weathering the Crisis, on May 22, 1981:
“On the way back to Tehran, I visited the large Gohardasht Prison with ‘Effat’ and the children. This prison was started by the Shah’s regime and is still unfinished. Recently, the Revolutionary Prosecutor’s Office has been working to complete it. It is huge and modern. It has everything in it. It looks like a city. Hopefully, it will always be empty in the Islamic Republic.”
Rafsanjani is not the only one who referred to this prison by the name of Gohardasht; there are many other cases in which Rajaei Shahr Prison was referred to as Gohardasht Prison.
The name of this prison first received a great deal of public attention after the mass execution of political prisoners in the summer of 1988. The second instance of this occurred during the 2009 disputed Iranian election and widespread protests, during which thousands of people were arrested over the course of several months. Many of the detainees were sent to Kahrizak Detention Center and Gohardasht Prison in Rajaei Shahr, and there were reports of abuse, torture, and rape in both centers.
Etemad, a reformist newspaper in Iran, published a cover story about these allegations on October 23, 2009, “Gohardasht Prison disasters and MPs’ concern about them,” which detailed:
“Deputies, while expressing concern over the recurrence of incidents such as the Ghiamdasht and Lavasan disasters, called for the parliament to investigate the suspicious death of a Kahrizak doctor and the Gohardasht Prison incidents.”
The Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) published a piece on January 24, 2004, about Afsaneh Norouzi, a woman who was imprisoned for the murder of a police officer. This report used the name Gohardasht instead of the Rajaei Shahr Prison.
These cases demonstrate that the name Gohardasht is still the most common name for Rajaei Shahr Prison, as official correspondence, news, reports, books, and documents published by the media and managers of the Islamic Republic have all used that name. These examples also reinforce that the testimony of plaintiffs and witnesses in Nouriy’s case is based on historical facts. However, it is not entirely clear exactly when the name of Gohardasht Prison was changed to Rajaei Shahr.
In addition to newspapers and books published in Iran, international documents also use the name Gohardasht Prison. For example, the list of EU human rights sanctions from April 12, 2021, includes Rajaei Shahr Prison, with a note that this prison is also known by other names, including Gohardasht.
In court, Hamid Nouri is trying to deny the truth and twist some of the facts. Still, in recent months the Judiciary News Agency has started to publish the allegations without providing any documentation or evidence of incorrect information.