Iran and Sweden to swap prisoners, including convicted war criminal

Iran agreed Saturday to release two Swedish nationals held in Tehran for over two years in exchange for a convicted Iranian war criminal tied to the 1988 mass killing of protestors critical of the Islamic Republic in the capital city.

While state-run media in Iran made unsubstantiated claims that Hamid Nouri was “illegally detained,” Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson countered that European Union diplomat Johan Floderus and a second Swedish citizen, Saeed Azizi, were facing a “hell on earth,” The Associated Press reported.

“The Swedish government has worked intensively for them to be released,” Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson wrote on social media platform X. “Today, they will land on Swedish soil and be reunited with their families and loved ones.”

In a statement following the swap announcement, Kristersson claimed Iran used the Swedish prisoners as “pawns in a cynical negotiation game.” He suggested their goal was always to free Nouri. “It has been clear all along that this operation would require difficult decisions; now the government has made those decisions.”

Floderus was arrested in 2022 as he was preparing to leave Iran with his friends. Azizi was detained in November 2023 and later sentenced to five years in prison.

The prisoner swap was mediated by Oman, according to a post from its Foreign Ministry.

“We rejoice at the news of the liberation of EU colleague & Swedish citizen Johan Floderus and his compatriot Saeed Azizi,” the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell Fontelles posted on X. “We thank Swedish & Omani authorities.”

Nouri was arrested in 2019 and later convicted of war crimes due to his role in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988. The late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash last month, was also complicit in the death commissions that executed thousands of dissidents near Tehran.

“The Islamic Republic has paved its way to exchange prisoners for money or release its criminals by taking citizens of other countries hostage and accusing them of baseless accusations,” prominent Iranian human rights advocate Atena Daemi wrote on X. “Instead of resisting the coercion and hostage-taking of the Islamic Republic, they prioritize the interests of their people and their country and have proven this many times.”

Iranian media has also released footage of Nouri returning to Iran.  The video shows him limping off the airplane and being embraced by his family.

“I am Hamid Nouri. I am in Iran,” he said, per the AP. “God makes me free.”

Nouri was the first Iranian to be tried under the principle of universal jurisdiction, a legal policy which determines some crimes are so grave that they can be prosecuted anywhere. Nouri received a life sentence, which Amnesty International hailed at the time, and Iran decried as unlawful.

Iran holds another Swedish prisoner, Ahmadreza Djalai, who Amnesty International has said previously was at risk of execution due to the conviction of Nouri.

Last year, the U.S. and Iran swapped 10 prisoners, including Siamak Namazi, who Iran had held for eight years. The U.S. government freed five Iranians and unblocked the transfers of $6 billion in frozen Iranian oil funds, a move that was heavily criticized by conservatives.

Authoritarian regimes like Iran and Russia have increasingly resorted to baselessly arresting Westerners to use in negotiations with the West, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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