Iran, Sweden exchange prisoners in Omani-mediated deal

Former Iranian official Hamid Nouri released in exchange for Swedish citizens Johan Floderus and Saeed Azizi.

People demonstrate outside a Stockholm court as they wait for the verdict in the case of Hamid Nouri in 2022 [File: Simon Johnson/Reuters]

Tehran, Iran – Iran and Sweden completed an Omani-brokered prisoner swap involving the release of a former Iranian official in exchange for a European Union diplomat and another Swedish-Iranian citizen.

The state-run Oman News Agency confirmed on Saturday that prisoners were transferred from Tehran and Stockholm to Muscat, before being returned to their countries.

Kazem Gharibabadi, the Iranian judiciary’s foreign relations chief, said on X that Hamid Nouri, who had been sentenced in Sweden to life in prison after being convicted of war crimes and murder committed in Iran in 1988, had been released.

Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson confirmed Sweden’s Johan Floderus and Iranian-Swedish national Saeed Azizi were released by Tehran. His office later confirmed the pair had arrived back in Sweden.

Floderus, 33, a European Union diplomat, had been in detention for more than two years. His trial began in Iran in December on charges of spying for Israel, which could have potentially carried the death penalty.

Azizi was imprisoned on national security charges carrying a five-year prison term.

‘Balancing act’

Relations between Iran and Sweden have been on a downward spiral surrounding the case of Nouri, who was convicted in relation to his role in the deaths of thousands of political prisoners as deputy prosecutor of Gohardasht Prison near Tehran.

The Iranian government maintained Nouri’s trial was influenced by Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), the foreign-based group considered a “terrorist” organisation by Iran for a string of bombings in the 1980s and allying with former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during the eight-year Iran-Iraq War.

A Swedish appeals court upheld a life sentence for Nouri on December 19.

Reporting from Tehran, Al Jazeera’s Resul Serdar said Nouri arrived back in Iran on Saturday. “He has been warmly welcomed by Iranian officials, and he released his first statement saying he is extremely happy.”

In Stockholm, Al Jazeera’s Paul Rhys said Floderus and Azizi were set to soon arrive in Sweden.

He described the decision to go through with the exchange as a “balancing act” of several conflicting interests for the government.

“Firstly, the families of the two prisoners putting pressure on the government to bring them home,” Rhys said. “Secondly, the human rights lawyers who would have considered it a real coup to get Nouri convicted in Sweden, they would have wanted Nouri to remain in prison.

“Thirdly, there is a very large Iranian diaspora in Sweden. Many people who say they suffer persecution in Iran and escape that by coming to Sweden, they would not have wanted Nouri to be returned to Tehran.”

Iran also holds dual national Ahmadreza Djalali, an academic sentenced to death on spying charges.

On Saturday, Amnesty International Sweden said it is concerned Djalali’s case had not been addressed in the exchange. The group said it feared he’s being used as a “political pawn” to extract a similar prisoner deal.

“When will he be allowed to come home?” the group wrote on X.


Source: Al Jazeera