Swedish EU diplomat Johan Floderus freed from Iranian jail in prisoner swap

<span>Johan Floderus returns home after being imprisoned in Iran and is greeted by Swedish prime minister, Ulf Kristersson.</span><span>Photograph: Tom Samuelsson/Regeringskansliet/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Johan Floderus returns home after being imprisoned in Iran and is greeted by Swedish prime minister, Ulf Kristersson.Photograph: Tom Samuelsson/Regeringskansliet/REX/Shutterstock

Johan Floderus, the Swedish EU diplomat held in captivity for two years in Iran, has been freed and has arrived home, greeted by the Swedish prime minister and his delighted and relieved family and friends.

Ulf Kristersson said on Saturday that the Iranian lifer Hamid Noury was being exchanged for Johan Floderus and the Iranian-Swedish citizen Saeed Azizi. He arrived back in Sweden later that evening.

His release comes months after Floderus’s father said they had expected the death sentence or life imprisonment after he was charged with spying, despite the protests by the EU, the Swedish government and his family, all of whom said the allegations were fabricated.

Azizi’s five-year prison term on national security charges was upheld earlier this year. He was arrested in Iran in November, on what Sweden called “wrongful grounds”.

In a video posted on X, Kristersson said, “Iran has made these Swedes pawns in a cynical negotiation game with the aim of getting the Iranian citizen Hamid Noury released from Sweden.” The prisoner swap was mediated by Oman, the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Noury was sentenced to life in Sweden in July 2022 for his role surrounding the death of thousands of political prisoners as deputy prosecutor of Gohardasht prison near Tehran, which many think prompted the detention of Floderus as he was leaving the country in the same year.

Related: ‘Levels of hell’: Father of Swedish EU diplomat calls for his release by Iran

The legal process in Noury’s case, including a court appeal, ended in March, paving the way for the negotiation. Iran’s official Irna news agency published footage of Noury arriving at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport where he was welcomed by his family on a red carpet.

“It has been clear all along that this operation would require difficult decisions,” said the Swedish prime minister.

Ylva Johansson, the Swedish EU commissioner in whose team Floderus has worked, said: “Johan is finally free, after more than two years wrongfully imprisoned in an Iranian jail. I am so, so, so happy. I am happy for Johan, for his family and his friends.

“Every day, in these last two years, Johan has been in our minds and our hearts. We spoke about him every day and now we are just all so relieved and happy to finally be able to say: ‘Johan, welcome home’,” she added.

In a statement, the EU said the 33-year-old, who had worked on the Afghanistan desk of the EU’s external services department, was “on his way home” from the notorious Evin prison, where his family said he had been detained under inhumane conditions.

The European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, said she was “delighted” and congratulated Sweden for its “persistent” efforts to get Floderus released.

Floderus, an Oxford, Soas University of London and Uppsala University graduate, was detained on 17 April 2022 at Tehran airport after visiting a friend working for the Swedish embassy in Iran. He had been in the country several times on joint EU-Iran programmes to support Afghan adults and children fleeing the Taliban.

His identity came to light only in September after his family conceded their “silent diplomacy” was not working.

In December, Floderus was charged with “very extensive intelligence cooperation with the Zionist occupation regime” and “corruption on Earth”. The family learned last month that prosecutors were seeking the death penalty in the case and believed a sentence could be handed down as early as Sunday.

Noury, 63, was arrested at a Stockholm airport in 2019 and later sentenced to life in prison for war crimes for the mass execution and torture of political prisoners at the Gohardasht prison in Karaj, Iran, in 1988. He denied the charges.

An Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson described Noury as a hostage in a statement to local media, saying his imprisonment was due to an “illegal Swedish court decision that lacked legitimacy”.

Noury told reporters his case had been complicated and sensitive. “They said even God cannot free Hamid Noury, but he did,” he told reporters on his arrival in Iran.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran, a coalition of groups opposed to Iran’s Islamic Republic government, said it appeared Sweden had yielded to blackmail and hostage-taking tactics in a move that would encourage Tehran.

Lawyer Kenneth Lewis, who represented a dozen plaintiffs in the Noury case in Sweden, said his clients were not consulted and were “appalled and devastated” over Noury’s release.

“This is an affront to the entire justice system and everyone who has participated in these trials,” he told Reuters.

Lewis said his clients sympathized with the Swedish government’s efforts to get its citizens home but said Noury’s release was “totally disproportionate”.

In a late-night news conference, Kristersson said he understood the exchange would be received with “mixed feelings, not least among Swedes who stem from Iran”.

“This was not an easy deliberation the government has had to make, but sometimes you have to do difficult things and do what is right,” he continued.

Another Swedish-Iranian dual national, Ahmadreza Djalali, arrested in 2016, remains in an Iranian jail. An emergency medicine doctor, Djalali was arrested in 2016 while on an academic visit to Iran.

Swedish foreign minister Tobias Billstrom said Iran had refused to even consider Djalali a Swedish citizen after he received citizenship in the Nordic country, where he lived and worked prior to his arrest, while in Iranian prison.

“To Djalali and his family I would like to say that the security services made great efforts for their husband and father to be part of today’s operation,” Billstrom said. “There is no doubt that we will continue to work tirelessly to bring home citizens like Djalali.”

Reuters contributed to this report