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Sweden Swaps Convicted Criminal with Hostages

June 15, 2024
Solmaz Eikdar
6 min read
Nouri was sentenced to life in prison in 2022 by the Stockholm District Court, which convicted him of "crime against international law
Nouri was sentenced to life in prison in 2022 by the Stockholm District Court, which convicted him of "crime against international law
During the summer of 1989, thousands of political prisoners serving their prison terms were executed and secretly buried in mass graves by the order of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic
During the summer of 1989, thousands of political prisoners serving their prison terms were executed and secretly buried in mass graves by the order of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic

Hamid Nouri, a convicted criminal under international human rights law for executing thousands of Iranian political prisoners in 1989, was released from a Swedish jail on Saturday.

The release was part of a prisoner swap between Sweden and the Iranian government - two Swedish prisoners were released for the swap.

Nouri was arrested in 2019 by Swedish police on arrival at Stockholm airport.

His trial in a Swedish court began in August 2021 after authorities in the country invoked the principle of "universal jurisdiction” – the legal principle that crimes such as human rights violations can be tried even outside the jurisdictions in which they occurred.

Nouri was sentenced to life in prison in 2022 by the Stockholm District Court after he was convicted of "crimes against international law."

The ruling garnered significant attention online and many celebrated it as a victory for justice.

Kazem Gharibabadi, deputy for international affairs and secretary of the human rights staff of Iran's judiciary, announced on his X social media account that Nouri, who he said had been in "illegal detention" in Sweden since 2019, was now free.

In return, Swedish citizens Johan Floderus and Saeed Azizi were released "after being imprisoned without reason by Iran," Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said. 

"The Swedish government has worked intensively for them to be released," he added. "Today, they will land on Swedish soil and be reunited with their families and loved ones. Welcome home."

Who is Hamid Nouri?

A former assistant prosecutor in the judiciary of the Islamic Republic during a period of political prisoner executions in the summer of 1989, Hamid Nouri arrived at Stockholm airport on a direct flight from Iran on November 9, 2019, and was arrested on arrival.

During the summer of 1989, thousands of political prisoners serving prison terms were executed and secretly buried in mass graves on orders from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic.

Nouri's trial in Sweden took place over 93 sessions in court. 

Dozens of plaintiffs, witnesses, and experts testified, and finally, in June 2022, Nouri was sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the mass execution of political prisoners.

The court's verdict stated that Nouri, as the assistant prosecutor of Iran’s Gohardasht Prison in 1989, "personally selected the prisoners and took them to the meetings of the committee, known as the death committee, and from there he took them to the execution site."

Nouri's lawyers filed an appeal, but on December 19, 2023, the Court of Appeal in Sweden announced its final verdict, confirming the life imprisonment sentence.

In his defense, Nouri called the mass execution of political prisoners in 1989 "fake." Iranian authorities have also repeatedly insisted on Nouri’s innocence and labeled the Swedish court as "political."

Some of Nouri's statements during the trial, including calling Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa regarding the political prisoners in 1989 a fake, caused controversy. 

He also claimed during a later part of his trial that "I could have become a minister in the Islamic Republic."

During the trial, the propaganda apparatus of the Islamic Republic, along with Hamid Nouri's children, strove to question the competence of the Swedish court and the integrity of the Swedish judicial system.

Majid Nouri, Hamid Nouri's son, claimed his father underwent "white torture," citing an incident where his father, who was accustomed to drinking tea, was given tea regularly for a week, only for this to suddenly stop.

Nouri was six months into his life sentence when news of the prisoner swap for two Swedish citizens jailed in Iran broke earlier this weekend.

A Prisoner Swap

In recent years, five individuals with Swedish citizenship have been imprisoned in Iran: Ahmadreza Jalali and Johan Floderus were accused of espionage, Kevin Gilbert and Simon Kasper were accused of drug-related offenses, and Saeed Azizi, whose charges are unknown.

According to reports, before Nouri's release, Johan Floderus and Saeed Azizi were released and were on their way back to Sweden.

Johan Floderus, a Swedish diplomat with the European Union, traveled to Iran in the spring of 2022 for a tourist trip with some friends. He was arrested in Iran on April 17, 2022. His last court session was held in Tehran on January 28, 2023, where the prosecutor accused him of "transmitting information abroad" and "having contact with Israel." 

The judicial official insisted that, according to the indictment, Floderus should receive a long jail sentence.

Saeed Azizi, a Swedish citizen of Iranian background, and still also an Iranian citizen was sentenced to five years in prison by Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court.  Reza Shafakhah, his lawyer, wrote on X in February that his client was suffering from prostate cancer. 

Shafakhah posted an hour after Azizi's release: "This swap took place without my knowledge as a lawyer or the knowledge of the client's family. According to Mr. Azizi's family, he was apparently released from prison last night and flown to Sweden."

The Swedish government announced in January, without mentioning Azizi's name, that the Islamic Republic had illegally detained an Iranian-Swedish citizen over 60 years old, and demanded his immediate release.

Swedish authorities did not confirm that Azizi was the other released individual but they acknowledge Azizi’s dual citizenship and that he was arrested "for no clear reason" last November.

Ahmadreza Jalali was not released in the Saturday swap and his family has criticized the Swedish government for this exclusion.

Jalali, a doctor and university professor of Iranian origin and Swedish citizenship, was arrested by the Ministry of Intelligence in April 2016, when he traveled to Iran to participate in a scientific conference. 

After nine months in prison, including three months in solitary confinement, Jalali was sentenced to death on February 31, 2017, by Judge Abolqasem Salavati of Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court, on charges of "espionage and selling information to Israel" and "corruption on Earth."

The government-linked Iranian Students’ News Agency reported that the decision to execute Jalali was promted by Hamid Nouri's trial in Sweden.

During his detention, Ahmadreza Jalali has gone on multiple hunger strikes to protest the prison conditions. According to Vida Mehrannia, Jalali's wife, there were fears in 2017 that he had leukemia, but prison authorities blocked his treatment. And in February 2022, Mehrannia reported that her husband was returned to prison just a day after surgery for acute intestinal adhesions.

Kevin Gilbert and Simon Kasper, meanwhile, two other Swedish citizens in Iranian jails,  were sentenced to five and eight years in prison in 2022 for drug trafficking. 

The two were arrested in February 2020 at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport with 9,800 grams of opium and 21,000 tramadol tablets, Iran's judiciary claimed, without providing evidence. 

In the swap of Hamid Nouri for the two Swedish citizens, Oman’s government once again played the role of mediator. Oman's official news agency announced on June 15 that, with its mediation, Iran and Sweden had agreed on the mutual release of citizens detained in both countries.

According to the report, prisoners from both sides were transferred from Tehran and Stockholm to Muscat, and then flown to their respective countries.

Western governments have repeatedly accused the Islamic Republic of taking dual and foreign nationals hostage to then use them in prisoner swaps or as a bargaining chip in international negotiations.

Many European countries have urged their nationals not to travel to Iran, warning that they face the risk of arbitrary arrest or unfair trial.

Louis Arnaud, a French citizen detained in Iran for nearly two years, was also one of the Iranian government’s hostages before his release and return to France earlier this week. France’s foreign minister said the French government continues to work for the release of three other French citizens in Iran, Jacques Paris, Cécile Koller, and a man named only as Olivier.

Arnaud, a 36-year-old consultant, set off in July 2022 on a round-the-world trip that included a stop in Iran.

He was arrested in September 2022, along with other Europeans, for allegedly participating in demonstrations over the death of Mahsa Amini.



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