Swedish E.U. Official Johan Floderus Held in Iran in Brutal Conditions


Ten months with no communication with his family. Three hundred days in solitary confinement. A cell that’s fully lit around the clock.

These are some of conditions faced by Johan Floderus, a European Union official from Sweden who was arrested in Iran in April last year and has been held hostage since, his family revealed on Sunday.

Last week The New York Times was the first to report on his incarceration at Tehran’s infamous Evin prison, after E.U. and Swedish authorities kept it under wraps for more than 500 days.

Johan Floderus on Aug. 7 in an image from his family taken from a video call. Credit…Floderus Family

Now the family has gone public, sharing details of Mr. Floderus’s detainment to raise awareness and rally support.

On Sunday, Mr. Floderus, who rose in the E.U. civil service to become a member of the diplomatic corps, turned 33 in Iran’s custody, in what appears to be another case of hostage-taking to exert pressure for the release of Iranian prisoners or other concessions from the West.

Mr. Floderus’s family said Sunday in a statement that it was starting a public campaign to bring him home, following in the footsteps of the families of other foreigners or dual Iranian citizens whom the government has detained in recent years.

The family said Mr. Floderus’s rights were being flagrantly violated. He is permitted only three and a half hours of fresh air a week, they said, is unduly limited in receiving letters from relatives or sending correspondence and has been granted just a handful of visits by Swedish diplomats in Tehran since he was arrested.

“He has been allowed to make, on average, one short phone call per month starting in February,” the statement said, adding that Mr. Floderus “had to go on hunger strike to be allowed to make several of these calls, which have to be in English and monitored.”

Mr. Floderus’s case is unusual because of his professional background, which makes him a high-value prisoner in what experts describe as an energetic “hostage diplomacy” advanced by Iran.

Before joining the European Union’s diplomatic corps, Mr. Floderus traveled to Iran on official bloc business for humanitarian projects, his family said on Sunday. He had been on a tourist visit in April last year when he was arrested at the Tehran airport on his way out of the country.

In the sole video call Mr. Floderus has been allowed so far, last month, he made a “desperate plea” to his family to step up their efforts for his release, the statement said, adding that Mr. Floderus is innocent of any wrongdoing.

The Iranian authorities, in a statement in July 2022, announced that they had arrested a Swedish citizen for espionage and claimed that his previous travel in the country showed he was there on nefarious business.

Mr. Floderus’s continued detention in Iran puts the European Union and Sweden in a difficult spot, compounded by the fact that they kept it secret for such a long time, seemingly without making any real progress toward his release.

Sweden has convicted and imprisoned a high-profile former Iranian judicial official for ordering the deaths of thousands of people in the 1980s, and Swedish-Iranian relations are at a nadir.

Apart from Mr. Floderus, Iran said it planned to execute an Iranian-Swedish scientist, Ahmadreza Djalali, who has been held since 2016 on murky charges of spying and aiding Israel in assassinating nuclear scientists, accusations that he denied in May last year. That month, it executed another Swedish-Iranian, the dissident Habib Chaab, who had been living in Sweden for more than a decade and was abducted during a visit to Turkey in 2020 and smuggled to Iran.

The European Union has been trying to revive a nuclear deal with Iran, and several high-level officials have visited Tehran, throughout Mr. Floderus’s incarceration. The dynamics and context of these diplomatic exchanges and the continued engagement with the Iranian government are now under scrutiny given that an E.U. employee is imprisoned in Iran.

“I want to stress that I personally, all my team at all levels — European institutions in close coordination with the Swedish authorities, which have the first responsibility of consular protection — and with his family, have been pushing the Iranian authorities to release him,” Josep Borrell Fontelles, the E.U.’s top diplomat, said last week after The New York Times revealed Mr. Floderus’s arrest.

“Every time we had diplomatic meetings, at all levels, we have put the issue on the table. Relentlessly,” he added.

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