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CRIME

German prosecutors examine 42 cases after church abuse probe

Prosecutors in Munich on Friday said they are examining 42 cases of potential misconduct by clergymen in connection with a damning new report on child sex abuse in the Catholic Church.

Archive photo shows a cross in a Catholic church in Magdeburg, Saxony-Anhalt.
Archive photo shows a cross in a Catholic church in Magdeburg, Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Ronny Hartmann

The report published Thursday by law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl (WSW) was commissioned by the archdiocese of Munich and Freising to examine how abuse cases were dealt with between 1945 and 2019.

It found indications of sexually abusive behaviour in 235 people it investigated, including 173 priests, and accused former pope Benedict of failing to take action against four offenders.

The law firm has passed on details of 42 cases in which “misconduct on the part of church leaders is deemed to have occurred”, Anne Leiding, a spokeswoman for the Munich public prosecutor’s office, told AFP.

“These cases… exclusively concern church leaders who are still alive,” Leiding said.

READ ALSO: Probe finds ex-pope Benedict failed to act in German abuse cases

If the law appears to have been broken, prosecutors will ask the law firm to pass on further relevant documents for investigation, she added.

Germany’s Catholic Church has been rocked by a string of reports in recent years that have exposed widespread abuse of children by clergymen.

A study commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference in 2018 concluded that 1,670 clergymen in the country had committed some form of sexual attack against 3,677 minors between 1946 and 2014.

However, the real number of victims is thought to be much higher.

Another report published last year exposed the scope of abuse committed by priests in Germany’s top diocese of Cologne.

The Munich report also accused senior clergymen, such as the pope emeritus as well as Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the current archbishop of Munich and Freising, of knowingly failing to take action against paedophile priests.

Ex-pope Benedict — whose civilian name is Joseph Ratzinger — was the archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982.

Among the cases he was accused of failing to tackle were two involving clergymen who had committed several proven acts of abuse but were allowed to continue with pastoral duties.

READ ALSO: German bishop resigns over Catholic church’s ‘failure’ in abuse scandal

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SWEDEN AND IRAN

Swedish court to give verdict in Iranian war crimes trial in July

A landmark trial against a former Iranian prison official accused of war crimes during a 1988 purge of dissidents wrapped up in Sweden on Wednesday, with a verdict due in July.

Swedish court to give verdict in Iranian war crimes trial in July

The proceedings marked the first time an Iranian official has gone on trial for the purge.

Hamid Noury, 61, faces charges including crimes against humanity and war crimes for his role in the killing of as many as 5,000 prisoners across Iran, allegedly ordered by supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

The killings were revenge for attacks carried out by the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), an exiled opposition group, at the end of the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88.

Last week, prosecutors called for a life sentence for Noury, who has been on trial in Stockholm district court since August 2021.

“It’s ironic, because I was witness to many of my friends being sentenced to death in one-minute trials in Iran. How different it is here”, Ramadan Fathi, a former prisoner who testified against Noury, told AFP.

On Wednesday, the final day of the trial, the judge set the date for the verdict on July 14.

“I hope these hands will be cleared … with the help of God,” Noury told the court, his palms raised to the sky and holding a Koran. “Friends, I love you, I’m not angry at you”, he told those present in the courtroom, his remarks in Farsi translated into Swedish by a court-appointed interpreter.

The defence had contested Sweden’s principle of universal jurisdiction — which allows it to try the case regardless of where the offences took place — and called into question the plaintiffs’ testimony.

“There is a lot of uncertainty about the way in which the name Hamid Noury arose in the testimonies”, Daniel Marcus, one of Noury’s two lawyers, told the court, calling the evidence “insufficient”.

‘Small, small holes’

According to the prosecution and survivors who testified against him, Noury was assistant to the deputy prosecutor of Gohardasht prison near Tehran at the time of the events.

He allegedly handed down death sentences, brought prisoners to the execution chamber and helped prosecutors gather prisoners’ names. Noury has argued that he was on leave during the period in question, and said he worked in another prison, not the Gohardasht one.

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

Throughout the nine-month trial, which briefly relocated to Albania to hear some testimony at the end of 2021, MEK supporters protested loudly outside the Stockholm courthouse.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Kenneth Lewis, said the evidence in the case was “overwhelming”. The defence “tried to find small, small holes, but in my opinion, they weren’t very comfortable” in their argument.

A lawyer representing the MEK expressed however concern that Noury — who is currently held in custody pending the verdict — would flee Sweden if acquitted, before an appeal could be lodged.

Ramadan Fathi, the former prisoner, said meanwhile he was “very happy to see with my own eyes” someone from the regime facing justice.

“Now that we’ve reached the end of this trial, I hope a day comes very soon when the entire leaders of this regime, perpetrators of this massacre, are brought to justice here or elsewhere.”

The trial has rendered Stockholm’s already chilly relations with Tehran even frostier.

Iran summoned the Swedish ambassador last week, the same day the prosecutor in Stockholm called for a life sentence against Noury. The Swedish foreign ministry has meanwhile advised its nationals against non-essential travel to Iran.

According to the Iranian news agency Isna, Iran plans to execute Swedish-Iranian academic Ahmadreza Djalali, who was sentenced to death in 2017 for spying for Israel, before May 21.

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