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Sweden and Iran exchange prisoners in breakthrough deal

SWEDEN and Iran carried out a prisoner exchange, officials said, with Sweden freeing a former Iranian official convicted for his role in a mass execution in the 1980s while Iran released two Swedes being held there.

The prisoner swap was mediated by Oman, the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement. “Omani efforts resulted in the two sides agreeing on a mutual release, as those released were transferred from Tehran and Stockholm,” it said.

Sweden freed former Iranian official Hamid Noury, who had been convicted for his part in a mass execution of political prisoners in Iran in 1988. 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.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said in a statement that Swedish citizens Johan Floderus and Saeed Azizi who had been detained in Iran were on a plane back to Sweden.

“Iran used them both as pawns in a cynical negotiations game with the purpose of getting the Iranian citizen Hamid Noury released from prison in Sweden. He is convicted of serious crimes committed in Iran in the 1980s,” Kristersson said.

“As prime minister, I have a special responsibility for Swedish citizens’ safety. The government has therefore worked intensively on the issue, together with the Swedish security services which have negotiated with Iran.”

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.

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

Floderus, a European Union employee, was arrested in Iran in 2022 and charged with spying for Israel and “corruption on earth”, a crime that carries the death penalty.

Swedish-Iranian dual national Saeed Azizi was arrested in Iran in November 2023, on what Sweden called “wrongful grounds.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the release of the two Swedes from “unjustified Iranian custody” and congratulated Sweden on its work to get them freed.

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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.

By NIKLAS POLLARD and JOHAN AHLANDER

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