Those Who Said No

Nima Sarvestani

Sweden / Germany 2014, 90min.

In the summer of 1988, staff at Iran’s Gohardasht prison could only communicate by tapping Morse code on each other’s walls. This way they spread the news about a so-called death committee which started mass assassinations of the political prisoners following investigations into their «devotion». Almost a quarter of a century later, many of the survivors are finally able to speak out – in safety and with clarity – about the barbaric treatment suffered under the dominating regime during this dark period of Iranian history.

Not too-dissimilar to these were the opening words of the Iran-tribunal, a trial which took place in The Hague from 25-17 October 2012, and is portrayed in the Swedish-produced documentary Those Who Said No. On trial, the Iranian authorities (although absent in court), accused of violating human rights and crimes against humanity in the aftermath of the Islamic revolution, as the theoretical 1980s government tightened its grip on the Iranian population.

Private initiative. The trial was initiated and financed by a large group of victims and their loved ones, due to the distinct lack of reactions from official, international organisations to the torture and executions – done by the same, incumbent government. Prior to the trial, a truth commission was set up, which collected statements from 75 people. During the three-day trial, some 25 main witnesses spoke about their experiences as political prisoners under the Ayatollah’s fatwa against alleged communists and other oppositions, which ran between 1980 to 1988 – leading to the execution of between 15,000 – 20, 000 political prisoners. The litigation happened in front of a panel of internationally renowned judges, led by South African judge Johann Kriegler, who had experience from that country’s process of liberation from its apartheid system.

Missing responses. The trial was filmed in its entirety and screened live online, not least so Iran’s people could learn of the extensive crimes committed by their country’s authorities. However, there is no doubt that the case received far too little attention worldwide, with a still noticeable absence of reactions seen from the international community – which first and foremost have focused on Iran as a nuclear power threat. Recent negotiations about the country’s nuclear politics have made some countries, including the USA and EU, lift their sanctions against Iran, and with the reform-friendly – mostly financial reforms – powers’ recent election victory there is reason to believe that the relationship between Iran and the West will only get steadily warmer.

Physical and mental torture is explained in depth.

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