Iranian war criminal freed by Sweden in prisoner swap deal

Sweden has released a convicted Iranian war criminal as part of a prisoner swap deal.

Tehran and Stockholm carried out the switch, which saw a European Union diplomat and another man released in exchange for Hamid Nouri, who was found guilty of being complicit in the 1988 mass executions in the Islamic Republic.

Nouri was arrested in 2019 as he travelled in Sweden as a tourist.

This likely prompted the detention of the two Swedes, part of a long-running strategy by Iran to use those with ties abroad as bargaining chips in negotiations with the West.

While Iranian state television claimed that Nouri had been "illegally detained", Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said diplomat Johan Floderus and a second Swedish citizen, Saeed Azizi, had been facing a "hell on earth".

"Iran has made these Swedes pawns in a cynical negotiation game with the aim of getting the Iranian citizen Hamid Nouri released from Sweden," Mr Kristersson said on Saturday.

"It has been clear all along that this operation would require difficult decisions - now the government has made those decisions."

State TV showed film of Nouri limping off a plane at Mehrabad International Airport in Tehran and embracing his family.

"I am Hamid Nouri. I am in Iran," he said. "God makes me free."

Oman mediated the release, its state-run news agency reported.

In 2022, the Stockholm District Court sentenced Nouri to life in prison.

It identified him as an assistant to the deputy prosecutor at the Gohardasht prison outside the Iranian city of Karaj.

The 1988 mass executions came at the end of Iran's long war with Iraq.

After Iran's then Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini accepted a United Nations-brokered ceasefire, members of the Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, backed by Saddam Hussein, stormed across the Iranian border in a surprise attack.

Iran ultimately blunted their assault but the attack set the stage for the sham retrials of political prisoners, militants and others that would become known as "death commissions".

International rights groups estimate that as many as 5,000 people were executed. Iran has never fully acknowledged the executions, apparently carried out on Mr Khomeini's orders, though some argue that other top officials were effectively in charge in the months before his 1989 death.

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Late Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash last month, was also involved in the mass executions.

Mr Floderus was arrested in April 2022 at Tehran airport while returning from a holiday with friends. He had been held for months before his family and others went public about his detention.

Mr Azizi's case was not as prominent but in February the group Human Rights Activists in Iran reported that the dual Iranian-Swedish national had been sentenced to five years in prison by Tehran's Revolutionary Court on charges of "assembly and collusion against national security".

The group said Mr Azizi has cancer.