A Swedish citizen who works for the EU’s diplomatic corps has been imprisoned in Iran on espionage charges for well over a year.
Johan Floderus, who works for the European External Action Service, was detained at Tehran’s airport in April 2022 on his way home from a vacation, the New York Times reported on Monday.
He has been held in the Evin prison in the Iranian capital for more than 500 days, according to the media report.
Floderus held several positions within the EU. He served as an aide to the European commissioner for migration, Ylva Johansson, and joined the EEAS in 2019.
The EU and the Swedish government had not revealed details about the arrest until Monday.
The European Commission refrained from making specific comments on this case on Monday, prompting a furious row between the NYT reporter who broke the story and an EU spokesperson during a daily media briefing.
In a statement to POLITICO, Sweden’s Foreign Affairs Minister Tobias Billström said, “The Government has worked — and is working — very intensively on this case.”
“The person in question has been arbitrarily deprived of his freedom and should therefore be released immediately. This message has been conveyed, including by me personally. Beyond that, I cannot go into any more detail.”
Peter Stano, Commission spokesman for foreign affairs and security policy, said in an emailed statement the Commission had been in touch with the Swedish authorities because of their consular responsibility. He did not confirm whether Floderus is still employed by the EEAS.
“This case has also to be seen in the context of the growing number of arbitrary detentions involving EU citizens,” Stano said. “We have used and will continue to use every opportunity to raise the issue with the Iranian authorities to achieve — in close cooperation with the member states involved — the release of all arbitrarily detained EU citizens.”
Floderus’ family told Swedish broadcaster SVT that they are “deeply worried and heartbroken.”
“We know that many are working hard to get him released and we are grateful for that,” his family said in a statement. “At the same time, every day is a huge ordeal, for us and above all for Johan. He must be released and allowed to come home immediately.”
Floderus’ arrest is the latest in a growing pattern of “hostage diplomacy” that Iran utilizes in a bid to obtain concessions from the West, the New York Times wrote.
Earlier this year, Belgian humanitarian worker Olivier Vandecasteele was released after spending more than a year in Iranian detention, in exchange for convicted terrorist Assadollah Assadi, who had been imprisoned in Belgium.
The news of the arrest resulted in strong reactions within the EU.
Swedish liberal MEP Emma Wiesner demanded action from EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. German Green MEP Hannah Neumann reacted to the news on X, formerly Twitter, saying the EEAS should have informed the European Parliament of the arrest.
Swedish MEP Abir Al-Sahlani wrote “This is OUTRAGEOUS!!!!!” on X, adding: “While keeping this secret, the Mullahs regime in Iran has been given the opportunity to blackmail European governments and continue killing people!”
Gregorio Sorgi contributed reporting.