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Ex-Iranian official gets life sentence in Sweden for murder of political prisoners 

Hamid Noury was arrested at the Stockholm airport while on vacation after Iranian dissidents in Sweden filed a complaint with the police.

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (CN) — The Stockholm District Court on Thursday handed a life sentence to a former Iranian official convicted of murder and torture for overseeing the mass execution of political prisoners in Iran in 1988. 

The court sentenced 61-year-old Hamid Noury to life in prison for his role in a series of reprisal killings of political opponents during the eight-year Iran-Iraq War. Prosecutors say the murders were ordered by the country’s former leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. 

“The district court has ruled that the executions, due to the connection with the international armed conflict, entailed serious violations of international humanitarian law,” the court said in a statement. The ruling was not available in English.

The trial, which opened in August of last year, included 92 days of hearings and more than 70 witnesses. 

Swedish authorities arrested Noury when he landed at the Stockholm airport in 2019 on a pleasure trip to the Scandinavian country. Under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction, the country can investigate and prosecute certain serious crimes regardless of where they occurred. Noury’s trial is the first time a defendant was arrested while traveling to, rather than living in, the prosecuting country. 

Noury’s arrest came after Iranian dissidents pressured the authorities to act on some 30 complaints made to the Swedish police about his actions.

“We worked very hard to bring him to justice,” human rights lawyer Kaveh Moussavi, who was involved in the campaign to have Noury arrested, said in an interview last year. 

Crowds gathered outside the Stockholm courtroom Thursday, cheering when the verdict was announced.

"This is a great day for me, a great day for all the victims' families," Mehri Emrani, who testified during the trial, told Agence France-Presse.  

The bloody, eight-year conflict underlying Noury's conviction broke out in 1980 when Iraq launched a full-scale invasion into neighboring Iran. Tensions between the two Middle Eastern countries had long been high but were exacerbated by the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which put Ayatollah Khomeini in charge of the country. After reaching a stalemate in the war that left more than a million people dead, both countries agreed to a United Nations-backed ceasefire in 1988.

Several days later, however, the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization, an armed group based in Iraq that opposed the new regime in Iran, began an offensive to topple the Iranian government. The group was defeated by the Iran military.

In response, Khomeini ordered an investigation into political opponents in Iran, including many members of the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization. Survivors describe a death corridor in the Gohardasht Prison, a facility just outside of the capital Tehran, where prisoners were first taken to a sham trial and then down a hallway to an amphitheater where they were executed. A report from Amnesty International found that 4,672 people were killed.

At the time, Noury was a 27-year-old assistant to the deputy prosecutor working in the prison. He has denied he was involved in the killings, claiming instead that he was working in another prison. His lawyers, Thomas Söderqvist and Daniel Marcus, told Swedish news agency TT that they plan to appeal. 

The trial is the first time an Iranian official has faced charges for the massacre.

“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,” Balkees Jarrah, the interim international justice director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. 

Noury’s trial has strained Stockholm's relations with Tehran. On Wednesday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry called for him to be released.

"Sweden should provide the grounds for the release of Nouri as soon as possible," spokesman Nasser Kanaani said in a statement.

The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, has advised citizens against traveling to Iran. The country is currently holding two Swedish-Iranian nationals captive and experts speculate they may be used to pressure Stockholm into a prisoner swap. 

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