The sister of Johan Floderus, the 33-year-old Swedish EU diplomat who has been held captive in Iran’s notorious Evin prison for more than 600 days, has said her brother is being used as a “pawn” in a “political game.”
Floderus was arrested by Iranian authorities in April 2022 at Tehran airport, after visiting a friend working for the Swedish embassy in Iran. He has since been held under harrowing conditions in the country’s Evin prison.
At the time of his arrest, Floderus worked on the Afghanistan desk of the European External Action Service (EEAS), the bloc’s diplomatic arm.
The Iranian prosecutor is reported to have said last Sunday he is seeking the death sentence for Floderus, who has been accused of spying for Israel and “corruption on earth,” a crime that carries the death penalty under Tehran’s Islamic laws.
Floderus is the latest EU citizen to be arbitrarily detained by the Iranian regime on widely contested criminal charges, known as ‘hostage diplomacy’. While many before him have been released after Tehran secured concessions from governments, the prosecutor’s call for the death penalty has come as a devastating blow to the family. No date has yet been set for the final verdict.
His sister Ingrid Floderus spoke to Euronews at an event in Brussels organised by the #FreeJohanFloderus campaign to call for his release.
“It’s about time that he got home. He is an innocent man,” Ingrid said. “I don’t think that anyone really feels like my brother has done those crimes that he has been accused of.”
“This is about some big political game where my brother is being used as a pawn, and that is really, for me, something I cannot accept,” she added.
“I don’t think we (Sweden) as a nation or the European Union either should accept that.”
Officials in Stockholm and Brussels have said they are working tirelessly to ensure his release. But Ingrid says that efforts will only be enough once her brother is safely home.
“For me and for our family (…) as long as he’s still there and accused of (these) horrific crimes, then maybe I don’t feel like it’s a success story so far,” she explained.
In a statement, an EU spokesperson said: “We have been very clear from the beginning: Mr. Floderus is innocent. There are absolutely no grounds for keeping (him) in detention.”
“The High Representative persistently raises the case at every occasion and contact with the Iranian authorities, since his detention, requesting his liberation,” the spokesperson explained, adding that the EU is in close cooperation with Swedish authorities on the issue.
His family have described the harrowing conditions under which has bheeen held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, saying that he has been on a hunger strike at least seven times in order to be able to call his family.
Prison officers have now warned he will not be able to call his family again if he goes on another hunger strike, according to his family. His cell, which he shares with three others, has lighting 24 hours of the day.
“I think he is doing worse and worse,” Ingrid said. “I can see from the pictures from his trial that he looks very different from the brother I know. He looks much skinnier, very pale, of course, since he’s basically never going out and I know that he doesn’t get this much food.”
Floderus is a graduate of the universities of Oxford, Uppsala and SOAS London. He previously held positions at the European Commission’s Department for international partnerships and the cabinet of Swedish Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson.
“Johan is fond of his family, dogs and CrossFit and has great interest in history, literature and culture,” reads a description from his family.
Present at the event in Brussels on Thursday were two other EU nationals held hostage in Iranian prisons and released in 2022, French-Irish citizen Bernard Phelan and Belgian citizen Olivier Vandecasteele.
“There is a pattern of people of certain nationalities being used for diplomatic leverage by Iran’s government. It’s called hostage diplomacy but I see little diplomacy in this. It’s basically blackmail,” Vandecasteele said at the event.
Floderus’s arrest came during Sweden’s trial of Hamid Noury, an Iranian accused of mass executions of dissidents in Tehran in 1988.