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Iranian press review: Sweden ‘betrayed’ Iranians, say opposition activists

Meanwhile reformist politicians demand the release of critically ill academic, and conservative presidential candidates soften stance on hijab law
Swedish Iranians and exiled Iranians protest outside the foreign ministry in Stockholm against Sweden's release of Iranian Hamid Nouri, who was pardoned and released in a prisoner exchange with Iran, 16 June 2024 (AFP)

Sweden prisoner swap sparks outcry

The release of former Iranian official Hamid Nouri, who had been serving a prison term in Sweden for human rights violations committed in Iran, has fuelled criticism from Iranian dissidents and opposition groups, as well as strong condemnation of the Swedish government. 

Nouri returned to Iran on Sunday as part of a prisoner exchange that saw two Swedish citizens, Johan Floderus and Saeed Azizi, freed from Iranian prisons.

Nouri, a former official in Iran’s judicial system, former assistant prosecutor and prison guard linked to the 1988 massacre of leftist prisoners, was arrested in Sweden in 2019 while on a tourist visa. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in Sweden for human rights abuses. 

Upon his return to Iran, Nouri taunted exiled opposition figures with the words, "I am back in Tehran with my family, where are you?" 

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Nouri’s release sparked outrage among critics who accused the Swedish government of compromising its human rights principles.

Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate, condemned the prisoner swap, describing Nouri’s release as a "blatant miscarriage of justice." In an Instagram post, she wrote: "In a world where justice is sacrificed on the altar of political expediency, the burden falls heaviest on the victims."

The Swedish government’s decision drew fierce criticism from Aban Families For Justice, an alliance representing families of victims of Iran’s 2019 anti-establishment protests, who labelled it "a grave betrayal." 

A statement posted on their official account declared: "This shameful act emboldens the Islamic Republic [of Iran] to further exploit hostages and commit more atrocities."

Alireza Akhondi, an Iranian-born member of the Swedish Parliament, voiced his anger, denouncing the swap as "an affront to Sweden’s judicial integrity and to all Swedish Iranians." 

In a separate Instagram post, he criticised the Swedish government’s decision to capitulate to the Iranian establishment, lamenting its broader implications for European policy.

Conservative candidates vague on hijab law

Two principlist candidates running for the presidency have stepped back from their previous full support for implementing the compulsory Islamic hijab law during televised debates, offering vague remarks about their positions.

Since September 2022 and the death of Mahsa Amini in morality police custody for reportedly flouted the Islamic dress code, the country’s hijab law has been at the centre of confrontation between the establishment and citizens. 

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After the deadly suppression of the 2022 nationwide anti-establishment uprising, triggered by protests against the hijab law, the establishment intensified its enforcement of the dress code, fully supported by fundamentalists and conservatives. 

Alireza Zakani, Tehran’s principlist mayor, was one of these politicians. However, in one of last week's debates, he denied that municipal officials deployed special forces in the Tehran metro to enforce the hijab law. Zakani claimed that those enforcing the law were ordinary people taking the initiative.

Saeed Jalili, another conservative candidate, attracted local media attention with his vague responses to a question about social clashes caused by the hijab law. 

"If we don't understand the strategic depth, we will neither understand the meaning of the surface," he said in the interview about the candidates’ policies regarding the hijab law.

When the debate moderator repeated the question, seeking a clearer answer, Jalili replied: "If we understand the strategic depth, then women become the main topic, but not in the way these issues are currently defined."

Analysing Jalili’s answer, the Ham Mihan daily wrote: "None of the candidates who have been unwavering supporters of these clashes are willing to explicitly state whether they will allow the morality police to continue its activities if they take control of the country's affairs."

Pressure on judiciary to free critically ill academic

Political figures have demanded the release of Sadegh Zibakalam, an outspoken retired university professor, after his lawyer revealed that the jailed intellectual is battling advanced-stage cancer.

Zibakalam is serving a three-year prison sentence for his criticism of the establishment. 

His lawyer told local media that he needs to continue the chemotherapy and laser treatment he started before his imprisonment.

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In response to this news, many political activists and reformist politicians have called for his release, condemning the judiciary for his incarceration. 

Azar Mansouri, a former political prisoner and reformist politician, addressed Iran’s chief justice, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei, urging Zibakalam’s release.

"It is expected that Mr Ejei make an immediate order to free Zibakalam, allowing him to continue his treatment. Prison is not the place for critics," she wrote on X.

Ishaq Jahangiri, a former vice president, also took to social media, urging the immediate release of the retired academic, highlighting his background and critical viewpoints.

"Dr Zibakalam is well-known for his critical perspective, candid approach, and unique viewpoints on various issues. His critiques are not confined to any particular political faction. I hope the judicial authorities will take swift action to address the concerns regarding the health of this esteemed professor," Jahangiri wrote on Instagram.

Zibakalam was imprisoned on 13 May, the same day he was planning to launch his latest book, Why I Am Not Arrested, at the Tehran International Book Fair. The book reflects on his experiences after the 1979 revolution.

Iranian press review is a digest of news reports not independently verified by Middle East Eye

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