Home News A brief history of the Iran hostage exchange

A brief history of the Iran hostage exchange


Iran and Sweden on Saturday Exchange of prisonersThe exchange looked like two countries engaging in diplomatic negotiations to release their citizens. Families were ecstatic; governments were relieved.

But the exchange is just the latest chapter in Iran’s long history of so-called hostage diplomacy in international affairs.

Iran has made the detention of foreigners and dual nationals a centerpiece of its foreign policy for more than four decades, ever since the 1979 revolution that established a conservative theocracy. For Iran, the approach has worked. For the world, it is a troubling trend.

Iran’s demands have evolved along with its strategy. In exchange for the release of foreigners, Iran has demanded prisoners, killers, cash and frozen funds. Iran has orchestrated complex deals involving multiple countries. Last Saturday, Iran finally released its most prized target: the first Iranian official convicted of crimes against humanity.

In exchange, Sweden released Hamid Nouri, a former judicial official who was serving a life sentence in Sweden for his role in the 1988 mass execution of 5,000 dissidents.

In return, Iran released two Swedish citizens, EU diplomat Johan Froederus and Iranian dual national Saeed Aziz. A third Swedish dual national, scientist Ahmadreza Jalali, was held in Iran and sentenced to death for unspecified treason charges, but was retained by Iran.

“Iran is perfecting the art of hostage diplomacy, playing everybody,” said Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese citizen living in the United States who was imprisoned in Iran from 2015 to 2019. He is president of Hostage Aid Worldwide, an advocacy group that helps secure hostages’ release. “The West makes it easy for them because there is no unified anti-hostage-taking policy.”

Iran’s hostage situation began almost as soon as the Islamic Republic was founded in 1979, when a revolution overthrew the monarchy of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

A group of students occupied the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took more than 50 American hostages. The 444-day standoff led to a permanent rupture in diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran. The Iranians wanted the United States to return the deposed shah, who was suffering from terminal cancer, to Iran. (The United States did not do so, and the hostages were eventually released in negotiations mediated by Algeria.)

Iran continued to arrest foreigners in the decades that followed. Dual citizenshipinclude scholar,reporter, merchantaid workers and environmentalists. And with every arrest, it demanded and got more in return.

In 2016, the Obama administration $400 million in cash paid to IranThe payment froze Iranian assets and coincided with the release of four Americans, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian.

In 2020, Kelly Moore-GilbertA British-Australian academic who was detained in Iran for two years has been freed as part of a cross-border swap involving three Iranians detained in Thailand on suspicion of planning a bomb plot.

Nazanin Zagari Ratcliffe, An Iranian-British aid worker He was jailed for six years only after Britain agreed to pay back its $530 million debt to Iran. These negotiations involved multiple British governments.

Last September, Iran releases several American-Iranian dual nationals They included businessmen Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Sharghi in exchange for several jailed Iranians. Iran also received $6 billion in frozen oil revenues, which it can use to buy humanitarian goods such as food and medicine.

“Iran has always pushed the envelope and learned how to deceive governments to get what it wants,” said Hadi Ghaemi, director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, an independent human rights advocacy and documentation group based in New York. “The danger is that other authoritarian governments could learn from Iran and make hostage-taking a regular practice.”

News of Saturday’s exchange of fire came as a severe blow to victims of human rights violations in Iran and to the rights community at large.

Many people are concerned about Mr. Nouri’s Trial and Conviction And the sudden change of leadership could affect the prospects for accountability and trials for war crimes in places like Russia, Syria and Sudan.

Affiliate Islamic Revolutionary Guard CorpsThe Iranian Security Forces (ISF), a powerful elite unit of the Iranian armed forces, made a bold assessment of the deal on Saturday, saying online that the two Swedes who were exchanged for Mr. Nouri were “arrested only for the purpose of exchange.”

The post, published on the messaging app Telegram, went on to comment approvingly that the deal had been reached without Iran having to hand over a third Swedish prisoner, Jalali, during the negotiations.

Zaka of the World Hostage Assistance Organization called Sweden’s abandonment of Jalali an “evil act” and said his organization had written to the Swedish prime minister about two weeks ago urging Sweden to ensure Jalali’s release.

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