This moment could mark either a horrific escalation in the Iranian regime’s hostage diplomacy strategy – a strategy that puts the lives of any innocent foreign national who travels to Iran in grave danger. Or it could provide the clarity the free world needs to finally come together to disrupt the serial crime of state hostage taking.
For years, the biggest distinction between hostages abducted by non-state actors and those arrested and detained through a government’s justice system was the likely fate of the hostages. Those captured by terrorists were more likely to be killed by their captors, while those held by states were more likely to be released through negotiated settlements.
But those calculations could change dramatically if the Islamic Republic follows through on threats to execute Ahmad Reza Djalali, who has been imprisoned in Iran since 2016.
Djalali, a doctor specializing in disaster medicine and a naturalized Swedish citizen, was arrested while visiting family in Iran. He was subjected to long periods of solitary confinement and said he was forced under torture to make false confessions to crimes for which there is no evidence he committed.
Ultimately, he was subjected to a show trial overseen by Abolghassem Salavati, known as the “death judge” for his prolific use of capital punishment. Salavati was also the judge in my trial.
In Sweden, meanwhile, jurors are deliberating the fate of Nouri, an Iranian citizen who was arrested on war crimes charges for his alleged role in the systematic massacre of thousands of domestic dissidents. In 1988 countless numbers of Iranians opposed to the Islamic Republic were arrested and many were hanged.
Ebrahim Raisi, the current President of Iran, was a assistant prosecutor at the time and was part of what became known as the “death commission”, a group made up mainly of clerics who ordered the extrajudicial executions. Nouri was a prison officer which would have led many dissidents to “death row” which was the last stop before the commission.
Nouri was arrested in 2019 following his Arrivals in Sweden and is tried under universal jurisdiction, which allows governments to prosecute foreign nationals for war crimes and other crimes against humanity, regardless of where those crimes took place.
Predictably – given what could come to light and what these revelations could mean for Raisi – the Iranian government is doing everything it can to prevent the verdict from being delivered. The Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned Swedish ambassador in Tehran to oppose the trial.
Soon after, the Swedish government issued a travel warning to its citizens to avoid unnecessary trips to Iran. It is unclear whether this was because of the renewed threat to Djalali’s life or the apparent arrest of another Swedish citizen, a tourist visiting Iran. Little is known about the case, but its timing suspiciously coincides with Iran’s attempts to free Nouri.
The kind of preposterous false equivalence the Iranian regime is trying to create between Nouri and Djalali is one of the reasons the US Department of Justice opposes prisoner exchanges of criminals convicted in fair and transparent courts for criminals. manifestly unfair. The execution of a foreign national, however, would set an alarming precedent – one that those following this issue have feared for some time. As I have written many times before, unless democratic governments work together to find ways to deter state hostage taking, there will be more cases like this – and more countries could find themselves in the current dilemma of Sweden. Let’s not forget that Iran’s long history of hostage-taking has inspired many imitators around the world.
When I was in the same prison as Djalali is now, my captors regularly tried to justify my detention on the grounds that I was subject to legal proceedings. I took every opportunity to remind them that the only difference between what they were doing to me and what ISIS and other terrorist organizations were doing to their hostages was that they hadn’t killed me yet. If Djalali’s case is any indication, even that distinction may soon disappear.
Discover the life of a family whose husband and father are held hostage in Iran. The new Post Opinions short film shows the ordeal to set him free: