Iran has put a European Union official from Sweden on trial for allegations that include spying for Israel and a charge that could carry the death penalty, according to Iranian state media.
The official, Johan Floderus, has been detained in Iran for about 600 days — held at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison in what appeared to be another case of Iran taking hostages to pressure the West for concessions. Mr. Floderus turned 33 in Iran’s custody, and his family has cited brutal prison conditions in campaigning for his release.
The Mizan news agency, which is overseen by Iran’s judiciary, published photos on Sunday of Mr. Floderus — including some of him in handcuffs — and said that he had appeared in court to hear the charges against him. It reported that prosecutors accused Mr. Floderus of “extensive intelligence cooperation” with Israel and of “corruption on Earth” — a broad, vaguely described charge that constitutes one of Iran’s most serious crimes and can be punishable by death.
Iran’s state news agency IRNA reported that Mr. Floderus had lawyers and an official translator present with him in the court in Tehran, but it did not say whether he had entered a plea.
The European Union said that the trial had begun on Saturday and refuted the charges invoked, with the bloc’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, saying that it has been “very clear from the beginning: Mr. Floderus is innocent.”
“There are absolutely no grounds for keeping Johan Floderus in detention,” he said in a statement on Sunday, calling on Iran to free the Swedish citizen “immediately.”
Mr. Floderus’s professional background appears to have made him a high-value prisoner in what experts describe as an energetic “hostage diplomacy” advanced by Iran. The New York Times in September was the first to report on his detention, which had been kept under wraps by E.U. and Swedish officials for more than a year.
Before joining the European Union’s diplomatic corps, Mr. Floderus held a series of roles within the bloc’s institutions and had traveled to Iran on official E.U. business for humanitarian projects, according to his family. He was on a tourist visit in April 2022 when he was arrested at the Tehran airport on his way out of Iran.
An Iranian statement at the time that announced the arrest of a Swedish national cited that person’s previous visits to Iran as evidence of wrongful activity.
As it emerged from the charges that Mr. Floderus’s role as an employee of E.U. agencies was most likely a contributing factor in his detention, some of his supporters hoped that European Union diplomats might be spurred to take further measures to free him.
In his statement, Mr. Borrell said he had raised Mr. Floderus’s case at every occasion with the Iranian authorities.
“The European Union will continue to work tirelessly to secure the release of our colleague Johan and that of other E.U. nationals like him, who are arbitrarily detained in Iran,” Mr. Borrell said.
The European Union has a complex relationship with Iran. While it maintains sanctions against several senior Iranian officials, the bloc also engages in diplomatic efforts to limit Tehran’s uranium enrichment program to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons. Critics and campaigners for the release of people wrongfully detained in Iran have said that such diplomatic activity undercuts the European Union’s willingness to pressure or punish Tehran to secure the release of Mr. Floderus and other E.U. nationals held in Iranian prisons on spurious charges.
The relationship between Iran and Sweden has been under increasing strain. In May 2022, shortly after Mr. Floderus’s arrest, Iran said it planned to execute Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian-Swedish scientist accused of spying for Israel. That announcement coincided with the conclusion of a landmark court case in Sweden where, for the first time outside of Iran, a former Iranian official was tried for crimes against humanity.
Leily Nikounazar and Matina Stevis-Gridneff contributed reporting from Brussels; Isabella Anderson contributed reporting from London.