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A former Iranian prison official has been sentenced to life imprisonment in Sweden after being convicted of war crimes and murder.
The Stockholm District Court found that Hamid Noury had taken part in severe atrocities during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war.
The 61-year-old was found guilty of participating “in the executions of many political prisoners in Iran in the summer of 1988.” He was also convicted over the murders of other left-wing sympathisers who were deemed to have renounced their Islamic faith.
It is the first time that an Iranian official has been tried and convicted for the mass killing of opponents in 1988.
At the time, Noury had been working as an assistant to the deputy prosecutor at the Gohardasht prison near the Iranian city of Karaj. He was arrested in November 2019 when he arrived at Stockholm airport.
Noury has denied wrongdoing and can appeal the verdict.
A life sentence in Sweden generally means a minimum term of 20 to 25 years in prison, but it could be extended. If he is eventually released, Noury will be expelled from Sweden.
In 1988, Iran’s supreme leader at the time, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued an execution order for all prisoners in the country who remained loyal to the Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK).
As a result, thousands of prisoners were executed in the Gohardasht prison between July 30 and August 16 in 1988, the Swedish prosecutors said.
Noury had claimed that the MEK had "wrongly accused him of participating in a fabricated course of events for political gains".
But the Stockholm judge ruled against him and handed down a rare life sentence.
"Nothing substantial has emerged which gives the court reason to question the investigation’s reliability and robustness,” Judge Tomas Zander.
Balkees Jarrah, the interim international justice director at Human Rights Watch, called the verdict “a meaningful moment” for survivors and the family of the victims.
“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,” she said.
In Tehran, foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani strongly condemned the sentence.
“For the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is absolutely certain that the case of Mr Hamid Noury was only an excuse for a political action without any real citations and legal validity,” he said, adding Iran “holds Sweden responsible for the damages caused to bilateral relations.”
The verdict comes at a tense time for ties between Stockholm and Tehran. A number of Europeans were detained in Iran in recent months, including Iranian-Swedish academic Ahmedreza Djalali.
The detentions have aroused concerns that Iran hopes to use the prisoners as bargaining chips to pressure the United States and western nations to grant the sanctions relief it received under its tattered 2015 nuclear deal.
On Friday, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet welcomed the "historic" conviction.
"States should use universal jurisdiction to ensure that serious crimes are punished and that truth and justice prevail," Bachelet wrote on Twitter.