A Swedish E.U. official, Johan Floderus, has been imprisoned “illegally” in Iran for over a year, according to the European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell. Floderus, a member of the E.U.’s diplomatic corps, has been held in Iran for the last 500 days. Borrell stated that the European Union is actively working to secure his release.
The detention of Floderus marks an escalation in Iran’s detention of foreign nationals, as previous arrests have primarily targeted private citizens holding Iranian passports or U.S. and European citizenship. The imprisonment of an E.U. official is a departure from this pattern.
Sweden had initially kept Floderus’ case confidential until it was reported by The New York Times over the weekend. Relations between Sweden and Iran have deteriorated following a Swedish court’s life sentence for former Iranian judiciary official Hamid Nouri, who was found guilty of war crimes related to the torture and execution of political prisoners in the 1980s.
International human rights organizations and Western governments have criticized Iran’s practice of imprisoning foreign nationals on espionage charges, considering them baseless and a means to exert leverage over other countries. Iran denies these accusations, asserting that imprisoned foreigners are treated in accordance with the country’s laws.
The Biden administration and Iran recently reached a prisoner exchange agreement, aiming to secure the release of five Americans and grant Iran access to approximately $6 billion in blocked oil revenues held in South Korean banks. As part of this agreement, the five Americans were moved from Evin prison to a hotel in Tehran, where they are currently under house arrest pending the transfer of funds to Qatar’s central bank.
Floderus’ detention follows the sentencing of Hamid Nouri and the subsequent detention of a Swedish citizen on espionage charges, which was not initially linked to Floderus. Earlier this year, Belgian national Olivier Vandecasteele, a humanitarian aid worker, was released from Iran after spending 15 months in prison on spying allegations. Vandecasteele’s release was part of a prisoner exchange, with Belgium releasing Iranian diplomat Asadollah Assadi, who had been sentenced to 20 years for planning a bomb attack at a rally in Paris.
The European Union, along with Sweden, continues to advocate for Floderus’ release, raising the issue in diplomatic meetings at all levels. Iran’s mission to the United Nations has not yet responded to requests for comment on the matter.