Sweden frees former Iranian official jailed for war crimes in prisoner swap

People react as a Swedish court hands the life sentence to Iranian official Hamid Noury in 2022  (EPA)
People react as a Swedish court hands the life sentence to Iranian official Hamid Noury in 2022 (EPA)

A former Iranian official jailed in Sweden for his alleged role in mass executions in the 1980s has been released in a prison swap.

Hamid Noury arrived at the Tehran airport on Saturday where he was greeted by his family, footage released by the official IRNA news agency showed.

The prisoner exchange was mediated by Oman. Sweden freed Mr Noury while Iran released Johan Floderus and Saeed Azizi.

Mr Floderus, 33, was arrested on spying charges in 2022 while he was in Iran on holiday and was facing the death penalty.

Mr Azizi, a dual national in his early 60s, was arrested last November and given a five-year prison sentence after being held guilty of “assembly and collusion against national security”.

The exchange was mediated by Oman.

“Omani efforts resulted in the two sides agreeing on a mutual release as those released were transferred from Tehran and Stockholm,” the Gulf country’s foreign ministry said.

Mr Noury, 63, was arrested from a Stockholm airport in 2019 and subsequently sentenced to life in prison for alleged war crimes related to the execution of prisoners at the Gohardasht jail in 1988. He was assistant to the deputy prosecutor at the prison in Karaj at the time, according to the Swedish prosecutors.

The prisoners who were allegedly killed were associated with the armed group Mujahedin-e Khalq, which was accused of siding with the enemy when Saddam Hussein’s Iraq launched a war on Iran in the 1980s.

Iran has never acknowledged the executions.

Mr Noury pleaded not guilty and denied involvement in the alleged crimes, but the Swedish court found him guilty of “grave breaches of international humanitarian law and murder”.

He was tried under the principle of universal jurisdiction which allows any country to prosecute a foreigner for serious crimes against international law – war crimes, genocide, torture, and crimes against humanity – even if they took place abroad.

Speaking about the exchange, Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson said Tehran made Mr Floderus and Mr Azizi “pawns in a cynical negotiation game with the aim of getting Iranian citizen Hamid Noury released from prison in Sweden”.

Iran’s foreign ministry said Mr Noury’s imprisonment was the result of an “illegal Swedish court decision that lacked legitimacy” and described him as a hostage.

After landing in Tehran, Mr Noury called his case “complicated and sensitive”.

“They said even God cannot free Hamid Noury, but he did,” he told reporters.

In Sweden, Mr Noury’s release sparked criticism from opponents of Iran’s government such as the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which accused Stockholm of yielding to “hostage-taking tactics in a move that would bolster Tehran”.

It was also condemned by Kenneth Lewis, lawyer for a dozen plaintiffs in the case against Mr Noury.

He said his clients, who were not consulted by the Swedish government about the exchange, were "appalled and devastated".

"This is an affront to the entire justice system and everyone who has participated in these trials.”

Mr Lewis said his clients sympathised with the Swedish government for working to get its citizens home, but Mr Noury’s release was "totally disproportionate”.

Mr Floderus and Mr Azizi arrived home late on Saturday.