Iran and Sweden announced on Saturday a prisoner exchange that saw a former Iranian official jailed in Sweden freed as Stockholm said Tehran had released a European Union diplomat and a second Swede.

“Hamid Noury, who has been in illegal detention in Sweden since 2019, is free and will return to the country in a few hours,” Kazem Gharibabadi, head of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights, said in a post on social media platform X.

Shortly afterwards, Sweden’s prime minister said Johan Floderus, an EU diplomat, and another Swedish national who were held in Iran had been released and were on a flight home.

Floderus, 33, had been held in Iran since April 2022 accused of espionage. He risked being sentenced to death.

The other Swede, Saeed Azizi, had been arrested in November 2023.

They were on their way home “and will finally be reunited with their relatives,” Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said.

Strained relations

Noury, 63, is a former Iranian prison official who was arrested at Stockholm airport in November 2019 and later sentenced to life in prison after Iranian dissidents in Sweden filed police complaints against him over killings in 1988.

Iran condemned the sentence but Sweden insisted the trial was held under its principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows it to try a case regardless of where the alleged offense took place.

Kristersson said Iran had made Floderus and Azizi “pawns in a cynical negotiation game, with the aim of getting Iranian citizen Hamid Noury released from prison in Sweden.”

He added that, as prime minister, he had “a special responsibility for the safety of Swedish citizens. The government has therefore worked intensively on the issue, together with the Swedish security service, which has negotiated with Iran.”

Several other Europeans including from France, Britain, Germany and Austria are still held in Iran.

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Activists and some Western governments accuse Iran of exercising a strategy of taking foreign nationals as hostages to force concessions from the West.

Last year, Oman helped mediate a swap deal between Iran and the United States, as well as facilitating the release of six European detainees in Iran.

With AFP