Swedish diplomat recalls darkest moments in Iran prison

Floderus did not believe he would ever be released until he was taken to Tehran airport on June 15 (Tom SAMUELSSON)
Floderus did not believe he would ever be released until he was taken to Tehran airport on June 15 (Tom SAMUELSSON)

After almost 800 days in Iran's notorious Evin prison, the now-free Swedish diplomat Johan Floderus recalled the darkest moments throughout his imprisonment and how he survived them.

Released in mid-June, Floderus and another Swedish citizen were part of a prisoner exchange that saw a former prison official return to Iran.

When asked how he has been since gaining his freedom, Floderus smiled while choosing his words carefully.

"I'm doing well. My family has done everything to give me the sort of soft landing that I think I really needed upon my return," he told AFP.

Floderus was arrested in Iran as he was about to return home from a holiday with his friends in April 2022.

"I was about to text my friends and tell them: 'look I've arrived at the airport but something is going on.' But that's when somebody came and took the phone away and said that's not allowed," he said.

The EU diplomat was then taken by car to the north of Tehran, where he recognised Evin prison.

"I had to take off my clothes and put on the prison uniform, sign some documents," he said.

- 'Confusion, anxiety, despair' -

He was blindfolded and led through corridors of the huge prison.

"I couldn't see where I was going, I could only see my feet really on the floor."

After two or three days alone in a cell, he was brought before what others called a judge.

"I was relieved to go there because I thought: 'finally this mistake will be resolved'," he said.

"But on the contrary, this man told me that I was accused of espionage against the Islamic Republic of Iran and that's the moment where everything kind of went black."

At that moment, Floderus said he felt faint.

It was then that the judge noticed and told him not to worry.

"I was just going to be their guest for two or three days but I would remain there for the next two years and two months," Floderus said.

The diplomat spent the first two months in "confusion, anxiety, despair" in solitary confinement before being moved to a group cell.

There, Floderus and the other prisoners were able to speak freely with one another.

"When I told them about what had happened to me, who I was, they told me, but Johan, you're a hostage," he said.

After a month with the other detainees, the Swede was taken to solitary confinement -- where he spent six months.

It was then that Floderus began looking for ways to survive.

"But as time went by and the months passed in solitary confinement, I realised that I would not survive if I let myself be affected by bad news or the absence of news," he said.

Floderus said he then tried to live with something other than hope.

"I discovered a strength within me that was more constant and that I could always rely on and that wouldn't leave me even in the darkest moments."

- New trial -

In December 2023, Floderus went on trial and was accused of one of the most serious charges in Iran which was punishable by death.

That same month, Iranian Hamid Noury saw his life sentence for his role in the mass executions of prisoners ordered by Tehran in 1988 upheld by a Swedish appeal court.

"I knew from an early stage that the only way in which I will see my family and loved ones again is through a prisoner exchange," he said.

"Sweden is not the first country that has taken this decision."

Floderus did not believe he would ever be released until he was taken to Tehran airport on June 15.

As soon as he got off the plane in Stockholm he proposed to his boyfriend as Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson looked on.

"I want to go back to the life that my fiance and I were leading before this happened," he said.

"Because two years and two months have been stolen from us and now we want to take them back."