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Prisoners

“Left Behind” Swedish Prisoner’s Family Speaks Out After Swap

June 18, 2024
6 min read
Jalali, a doctor and university professor of Iranian origin and Swedish citizenship, was arrested by the Ministry of Intelligence in April 2016, when he traveled to Iran to participate in a scientific conference
Jalali, a doctor and university professor of Iranian origin and Swedish citizenship, was arrested by the Ministry of Intelligence in April 2016, when he traveled to Iran to participate in a scientific conference

Ahmadreza Jalali, a Swedish-Iranian doctor on death row in Iran, was excluded from a prisoner swap on Saturday that saw the release of a convicted Iranian war criminal from a Swedish prison.

Jalali's family has criticized the Swedish government for this exclusion.

Jalali, a doctor and university professor of Iranian origin and Swedish citizenship, was arrested by the Ministry of Intelligence in April 2016, when he traveled to Iran to participate in a scientific conference.

After nine months in prison, including three months in solitary confinement, Jalali was sentenced to death on February 31, 2017, on charges of "espionage and selling information to Israel" and "corruption on Earth."

In an audio clip obtained by IranWire from Iran's Evin Prison, he demanded answers from the Swedish government for "leaving him behind"

"Mr Prime Minister, you decided to leave me behind under a huge risk of being executed," he said.

"You did not act to deal on altering my condition and canceling the death sentence before the swap is done," he added.

The prisoner swap saw the release of Hamid Nouri, a former Iranian official convicted in Sweden of war crimes and mass executions of political prisoners in Iran, in 1989.

Susanne Berger, a consultant and adviser for the campaign to free Ahmadreza Jalali and also a senior fellow at the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (RWCHR) in Montreal. has sent the following to IranWire: 

“Sweden may now have sealed my husband’s fate"            

This past weekend, the overwhelming joy at the safe return of Johan Floderus and Saeed Aziz quickly turned to shock and consternation for the family of Ahmadreza Djalali (Jalali).

“We are broken”, his wife Vida Mehrannia told me in a short message after receiving the devastating news that her husband  would not be coming home, after spending eight years as a political hostage in Iran.

Djalali, an Iranian-born Swedish citizen, is a physician and internationally recognized scholar of disaster medicine. He was detained in 2016, after attending a medical conference in Tehran.  

Mehrannia, who had dreaded this worst-case scenario for weeks, had no warning from Swedish officials, no chance to prepare her twelve-year-old son that his father was not included in a prisoner exchange that freed convicted Iranian mass murderer Hamid Noury.

“For us, it is difficult to see a glimmer of hope now”, she wrote in a public statement.

As Mehrannia frantically tried to contact Swedish Foreign Ministry officials for an explanation, none made themselves available.

During a formal press conference later that evening,  Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson explained that Iran “simply refused to discuss [Ahmadreza] Djalali with us at all.” Other countries had also tried to raise his case and received the same reply.  Again, Djalali’s family was stunned.

They were under the impression that just over two years ago Iranian officials had indicated that they would be interested in discussing a possible Hamid Noury - Ahmadreza Djalali exchange.

Mr. Kristersson’s public comments were mostly interesting for what he did not say -  that Sweden would not rest until Ahmadreza Djalali comes home; or that the Swedish government would now take the lead in rallying all possible resources to effectively counter the scourge of international hostage taking once and for all, in close cooperation with its international partners.

Instead, by the next morning, Kristersson pointedly took aim at  Mehrannia’s criticism of his government’s decision to abandon her husband.

In an interview with Swedish radio (Godmorgon världen) he stressed that Mehrannia must understand that freeing  Ahmadreza  “is simply not possible right now.”

She could not reasonably suggest, Kristersson added, “that we should have left behind the two Swedes who have now come home?”

Left unsaid once again was what everybody, including the Swedish Prime Minister, knows only too well -  that an exchange for Hamid Noury was Ahmadreza’s best and possibly only chance to be rescued in the short term.

Given the inhuman physical and emotional strain he has been forced to endure, living under the death penalty since 2017, one now has to wonder how much longer he can hold out.

Once Sweden agreed to a prisoner swap, the chief aim should have been to exact the maximum price from Iran for such a deal. Instead,  the consensus among former Iran hostages is that Sweden did not come close to achieving that goal. Siamak Namazi, who spent seven years with Ahmadreza Djalali in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison says he is “appalled by Stockholm’s unconscionable decision” to abandon his former prison mate. 

“Hamid Noury was extremely valuable to Iran,” Namazi wrote on “X” (formerly Twitter). “Iran would not only have freed Djalali, but also a half dozen other European hostages in exchange for him.”

Dr. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who spent more than two years in Iranian prisons, was just as scathing in her assessment

“A  Telegram channel affiliated with [Iran Revolutionary Guard Council] IRGC Qods force is bragging about snatching Johan Floderus and Saeed Azizi to compel Sweden to release convicted war criminal  Hamid Nouri, without even having to let go of Ahmadreza Djalali. Djalali’s being left behind in what was really already a grossly asymmetrical deal is, frankly, inexcusable. ... Sweden’s weakness here not only abandons Djalali to possible death, it will undoubtedly encourage more Iranian hostage-taking.”

In Sweden’s defense, Swedish officials clearly faced a “damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t” situation with regards to a possible exchange of Hamid Noury.  At the same time, they apparently made a clear-eyed assessment:  The Swedish government was unwilling to trade Noury for Ahmadreza Djalali.This was not politically viable (although Sweden claimed it lacked the legal authority for such an exchange). Once Johan Floderus was arrested two years ago, the calculus changed. Swedish officials could not run the risk of having Floderus harmed in prison -  plus an EU diplomat made for a more credible swap.

The exclusion of Ahmadreza Djalali from this deal is bitter indeed. If nothing else, Swedish officials could have tried to blunt the impact and emotional pain for his family. It does not take much to extend a kind word or show a modicum of compassion. That they chose not to do so, and worse, felt it unnecessary to do so, is simply appalling.

Foreign Minister Tobias Billström spent the day following the announcement of the prisoner exchange on social media reviewing Sweden’s confusing travel advisories vis a vis Iran.

So far, he too has offered no clear explanation why Sweden accepted Iran’s refusal to recognize Djalali’s Swedish citizenship or why the Swedish government would agree to sacrifice its trump card but leave their longest imprisoned citizens in Iran behind.

Mehrannia fears most that her husband’s exclusion from the prisoner swap will signal to Iran that Sweden does not care about Ahmadreza Djalali. By failing to take a decisive stand on her husband’s behalf, Mehrannia says, his adopted country “may now have sealed his fate.” 

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