On the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian met with his Belgian and Swedish counterparts for private talks, the contents of which were not initially reported. Iranian state-owned media subsequently revealed they had discussed regional stability, the latest talks in Vienna on reviving the JCPOA – and “some consular issues, including Hamid Nouri”.
Nouri, a former official at Gohardasht Prison, is currently on trial in Sweden for war crimes and murder in connection with his alleged role in Iran’s 1988 prison massacre, in which thousands of members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization and leftist groups were systematically slaughtered in a matter of months. Amir Abdollahian is said to have “stressed that it was unacceptable that relations between the two countries should be targeted by the conspiracies of the terrorist group of hypocrites [MEK]”.
According to the IRGC-affiliated Fars News Agency, Amir Abdollahian also brought up Asadollah Asadi, a former diplomat at the Iranian Embassy in Austria, who was jailed in Belgium in February 2021 for his role in a plot to bomb the annual MEK rally in Paris. In all likelihood, their cases were raised in the context of a petition for their release.
This has raised concerns among some observers that the Iranian government might be gearing up for another attempted prisoner swap. Though there are no Belgian nationals currently in prison in Iran, the country is holding a number of Swedish passport holders and French and German police were also involved in Asadi’s arrest. Among the Europeans now detained in Iran are Swedish-Iranian scientist Ahmad Reza Jalali, Swedish-Iranian dissident Habib Chaab, Swedish nationals Stephen Kevin Gilbert and Simon Kasper Brown, French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, French tourist Benjamin Briere, German-Iranian architect Nahid Taghavi and elderly Austrian-Iranian engineer Massoud Mossaheb).
But could either of the two men, as a convicted criminal and a defendant respectively, actually be released under European law?
Iranian officials, including the former Iranian ambassador to Germany, have said that the evidence against Asadollah Asadi is so incontrovertible that there is no prospect of his being acquitted, in any court. Despite this, Fars reports that Abdollahian has raised his case with top diplomats in Munich. With regard to Hamid Nouri, the Iranian regime took the opposite approach: demanding he be released in public statements while never actually denying the crimes he is accused of.
Based on the approach adopted by European countries in the past, when Iranian agents have been convicted of acts of terror and assassinations on European soil, there is a strong possibility that Asadi could be released before the end of his sentence. The Belgian government has the power to pardon him if it sees fit, alongside Asadi’s three Iranian co-conspirators, all of whom were jailed for lesser periods.
But there is a zero possibility of Hamid Nouri being released before the end of his trial. The Swedish government does not have any power it can call on to pardon or release him before the judge at Stockholm District Court has issued their verdict in his case. Were any pardon to be granted after this particular ruling, given the gravity of the crimes, it would devastate the Swedish government's reputation.