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Sweden frees an Iranian man convicted over 1988 mass executions in exchange for 2 men held by Iran

This is a locator map for Iran with its capital, Tehran. (AP Photo) This is a locator map for Iran with its capital, Tehran. (AP Photo)
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -

Iran and Sweden carried out a prisoner swap Saturday that saw Tehran release a European Union diplomat and another man in exchange for an Iranian convicted in Stockholm of committing war crimes over his part in 1988 mass executions in the Islamic Republic.

The arrest of Hamid Nouri by Sweden in 2019 as he travelled there as a tourist likely sparked the detentions of the two Swedes, part of a long-running strategy by Iran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution to use those with ties abroad as bargaining chips in negotiations with the West.

While Iranian state television claimed without evidence 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," Kristersson said Saturday. “It has been clear all along that this operation would require difficult decisions; now the government has made those decisions."

Oman, a sultanate on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, mediated the release, its state-run news agency reported. Oman long has served as an interlocutor between Iran and the West. The swap comes as the Muslim world celebrates Eid al-Adha, which marks the end of the Hajj pilgrimage and typically sees prisoners freed.

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 cease-fire, members of the Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, heavily armed 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 Khomeini’s orders, though some argue that other top officials were effectively in charge in the months before his 1989 death.

Late Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, killed in a helicopter crash in May, also was involved in the mass executions.

Floderus' family said he was arrested in April 2022 at the Tehran airport while returning from a vacation with friends. Floderus had been held for months before his family and others went public with his detention.

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 Azizi has cancer.

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, praised the release of the two men.

“Other EU citizens are still arbitrarily detained in Iran,” he wrote on the social platform X. “We'll continue to work for their freedom together” with other EU states.

Iran long has contended it doesn't hold prisoners to use in negotiations, despite years of multiple swaps with the U.S. and other nations showing otherwise.

The swap, however, did not free Ahmadreza Djalali, a Swedish-Iranian expert on disaster medicine whom a U.N. panel long has described as being arbitrarily detained by Tehran since his arrest in 2016. Djalali faces possible execution after being convicted on charges of “corruption on Earth” in 2017 following what Amnesty International called a “grossly unfair trial” in Revolutionary Court.

“Ahmadreza Djalali’s family was not informed or in any way warned that there was an ongoing deal and that Ahmadreza Djalali was to be left behind, EVEN THOUGH he is the Swedish citizen who has been held hostage the longest,” a campaign seeking his release said on X. “They read the news today, like anyone else.”


Associated Press writers Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, and Jari Tanner in Helsinki contributed to this report. Top Stories

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