Appeal opens of ex-Iran official convicted in Sweden

A former Iranian prison official sentenced to life in Sweden for crimes committed during a 1988 purge of dissidents appeared in court again Wednesday as his appeal trial opened.

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

Hamid Noury, 61, was convicted of a "serious crime against international law" and "murder" in July 2022 by a Stockholm district court.

It found that Noury had been an assistant prosecutor in a prison near Tehran at the time of the events and had "retrieved prisoners, brought them to the committee and escorted them to the execution site".

The lower court trial was the first related to the mass executions in Iran in the 1980s. It was particularly sensitive, as 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.

As his appeals trial opened on Wednesday, Noury's defence lawyer Thomas Bodstrom asked the court to acquit him or reduce his sentence.

- Tehran's protest -

Noury, dressed in a white polo shirt, asked to make a statement, but was told by judge Robert Green he had to wait until it was time for the defence to present its case.

Noury continued to speak, deploring the conditions of his jail and complaining of problems with his vision, waving several pairs of glasses at the judge. After repeated outbursts and reprimands, he was escorted out of the courtroom.

Noury was sentenced 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", said the district court ruling.

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

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

The case has strained relations between Stockholm and Tehran, which has repeatedly called for Noury's release and dismissed last year's verdict as "political".

Throughout the original trial protesters opposed the regime in Iran gathered outside the Stockholm courthouse. A group of about 100 showed up to Wednesday's appeal.

"I think this trial once again will highlight what happened in Iran in 1988," Shahin Gobadi, a spokesman for the exiled opposition group National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), told AFP.

"Today, after four months of protests and a revolution in Iran, people have a much better understanding of the savagery of this regime," he added.