A Swedish citizen, part of the EU diplomatic corps, has been covertly detained in Iran for over 500 days as part of Iran's hostage diplomacy, reports The New York Times.
Johan Floderus, 33, who worked for the European Union's diplomatic corps, was arrested at Tehran airport in April 2022 as he prepared to depart the country after what was described as a private tourist trip with friends.
In July 2022, the Iranian government released a statement announcing that it had apprehended a Swedish national for espionage who was being held in Evin prison, however they did not disclose any further details.
The New York Times spoke to six individuals with first-hand knowledge of the case, who all confirmed that Floderus’ had nothing to do with any espionage claims.
The Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs said it would not comment on the details of the case, citing a need for secrecy. “A Swedish citizen — a man in his 30s — was detained in Iran in April 2022,” its press department said in a recent email. “The Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of Sweden in Tehran are working on the case intensively.”
“We understand that there is interest in this matter, but in our assessment, it would complicate the handling of the case if the ministry were to publicly discuss its actions,” it added.
Floderus was detained when EU diplomats were hard at workto broker a nuclear deal between Iran and the United States. Two top EU foreign policy officials visited Tehran in mid-2022, while they kept his detention hidden from the public and European institutions. It is not clear to what extent the fact that one of their employees was held hostage impacted their mediating role.
Hannah Neuman, a German member of the European Parliament commented on the case on social media saying that parliament should have been informed about Floderus’ arrest, as well as attempts to secure his release and the impact on JCPOA negotiations.
She directly criticized the EU's policy of keeping Floderus’ arrest and detainment a secret as it may impact attempts to revive nuclear diplomacy. Others called for a policy re-think. “A serious recalibration of policy is needed,” said Kasra Aarabi, an academic, who took to social media to comment on the case. He further demanded the proscription of the IRGC and consolidated international action against the Iranian regime.
The European External Action Service, the diplomatic service for which Floderus works confirmed that they have been following the case very closely and that his arrest “underlines the very concerning tendency of Iranians to use EU nationals or Iranian dual nationals as pawns for political reasons." However, neither Swedish nor EU authorities have publicly discussed the situation, citing the need for confidentiality.
“This case has also to be seen in the context of the growing number of arbitrary detentions involving EU citizens,” added Nabila Massrali, a spokeswoman for the EU bloc’s diplomatic body. “We have used and will continue to use every opportunity to raise the issue with the Iranian authorities to obtain the release of all arbitrarily detained EU citizens.”
The arrest of Floderus follows a pattern of Iran detaining dual nationals and foreigners on dubious charges to use them as bargaining chips for prisoner exchanges or to extract concessions and funds.
A recent deal saw five American prisoners being released in return for freeing up $6bn of frozen Iranian funds in South Korea, which puts an approximate price of $1.2bn per head.
Relations between Iran and Sweden have soured recently, notably with the sentencing of a former senior Iranian judicial official, Hamid Nouri, to life in prison in Sweden for war crimes committed in Iran. Iran has escalated pressure on Sweden in response.