(From left) Former Iranian official Nouri, Swedish diplomat Johan Floders and Iranian-Swedish dual-national Saeed Azizi

A Dangerous Precedent: Sweden’s Mistake in the Hamid Nouri Case

Sunday, 06/16/2024

The decision by the Swedish government to return Hamid Nouri, a convicted criminal against humanity, to Iran in exchange for hostages marks a dangerous precedent with far-reaching consequences.

This exchange, involving the release of Johan Floders, a Swedish diplomat, and Saeed Azizi, a dual-citizen, underscores Tehran’s mastery in leveraging “hostage diplomacy” to further its agenda.

Nouri was convicted for his role in the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, an event that saw thousands executed on the orders of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. His trial and subsequent conviction in Sweden were recognized as a significant step for international justice. However, his return to Iran in a political exchange undermines these achievements and could potentially embolden other regimes globally.

The decision by Sweden to acquiesce to Iran’s demands sends a message that hostage-taking can be perceived as an effective strategy. Sweden’s decision may encourage more kidnappings and unlawful detentions. This development could embolden not only Iran but also other regimes and organizations, demonstrating that democratic nations can be coerced into compromising their principles and judicial decisions. By negotiating Nouri’s return, Sweden has compromised the integrity of international justice and signaled that political considerations can override judicial outcomes.

Iranian government’s tactics are not new. Since its establishment, the clerical regime has shown a willingness to use extreme measures to achieve its goals, including the suppression of political dissidents and the use of state-sponsored violence. The 1988 massacre is one of the most egregious examples of this, with over 5,000 political prisoners executed in a matter of two months. By negotiating Nouri’s return, Sweden has not only failed the victims of these atrocities but also risked the safety of individuals and the stability of international relations.

A historical precedent that underscores the danger of such concessions is the Mykonos trial in Germany. On September 17, 1992, four Iranian-Kurdish dissidents were murdered. The court concluded that the highest levels of the Iranian government, including then-President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, had approved the assassinations. The trial also exposed the involvement of Iran's embassy in Germany and its diplomats, such as Seyed Hossein Mousavian. This trial highlighted the extent to which the Islamic Republic (IRI) would go to silence its opponents, even on foreign soil.

Despite the significant verdict in the Mykonos trial, Germany eventually sent back one of the convicted perpetrators, Darabi, to Iran after 15 years in prison. His return was celebrated by the government in Iran, where he was interviewed by state media and published a book. This action emboldened the IRI, leading to renewed threats against the Iranian diaspora and terrorist activities in Europe. This concession nullified the EU's agreement to halt such activities with Iran.

A glaring example of this renewed aggression was the case of Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat arrested on June 10, 2018, in Germany. Assadi was accused of involvement in an attempted bombing at a gathering of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in Villepinte, north of Paris. Although Assadi was entitled to diplomatic immunity in Austria, his country of posting, he did not have immunity on German soil. Despite Iran's objections, which claimed the detention violated international law and the 1961 Vienna Convention, Assadi was arrested while returning to Austria, highlighting ongoing concerns regarding state-sponsored terror activities.

Assadi was extradited to Belgium, where the conspiracy had been taking shape and eventually convicted, but in May 2023 Brussels decided to exchange him with another hostage. Iran released Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele, who had been incarcerated in Tehran for nearly 15 months.

This pattern of using hostage-taking as an act of terror was further exemplified on October 7, when Hamas, a group backed by the IRI, kidnapped more than 200 Israelis, including civilians, women, children, and the elderly, and took them to Gaza. This violation of the rules of combat shows the extent to which such groups are willing to go, knowing they can use innocent lives as bargaining chips in negotiations. This act underscores the dangerous precedent set by Sweden’s decision and the emboldening of regimes and organizations to continue such practices.

Sweden’s decision to return Hamid Nouri, despite his conviction for crimes against humanity, risks emboldening the IRI further. It indicates to other regimes that such activities might not face significant consequences. The Mykonos trial and subsequent events should have served as warnings and calls to action for stricter measures against state-sponsored terrorism. Yet, recent developments suggest that lessons from the past have not been fully heeded.

The international community must take a firm stance against hostage diplomacy. This involves refusing to negotiate with regimes that use such tactics, imposing stringent sanctions, and taking diplomatic action against them. Furthermore, democratic nations must collaborate to ensure that perpetrators of crimes against humanity face justice, regardless of political pressures. This means upholding the principles of universal jurisdiction and supporting judicial decisions made in good faith and through fair legal processes.

The opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily the views of Iran International

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