Home Middle East Olivier Vandecasteele: Belgian aid worker freed in exchange for Iranian diplomat

Olivier Vandecasteele: Belgian aid worker freed in exchange for Iranian diplomat

Belgium and Iran have carried out a prisoner swap involving Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele and Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi.

Olivier Vandecasteele: Belgian aid worker freed in exchange for Iranian diplomat
Belgian Prime Minister Announces Release of Detained Citizens in Iran: Mr. Vandecasteele and Mr. Assadi Return Home

The Belgian Prime Minister has made a significant announcement regarding the release of two individuals who were detained in Iran and Belgium. Mr. Vandecasteele, who spent 455 days in prison under unbearable conditions in Tehran, is currently flying back home. Meanwhile, Mr. Assadi, who was illegally detained for two years, has arrived in Tehran after a prisoner exchange was brokered by Oman.

Mr. Vandecasteele was sentenced to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes on charges of espionage and other accusations. He consistently denied any wrongdoing, and Belgium stated that the charges were fabricated and retaliatory in nature. In contrast, Mr. Assadi was sentenced to 20 years in Belgium for planning a bomb attack on an exiled Iranian opposition group’s rally in France. Iran claimed that his arrest, trial, and sentencing violated international law.

Belgium’s Prime Minister, Alexander de Croo, confirmed that Mr. Vandecasteele was flown from Iran to Oman on Thursday night, where he received medical care and underwent examinations by Belgian military personnel and diplomats. Prime Minister de Croo expressed his relief, stating, “If everything goes according to plan, he will be with us this evening. Free at last!” He emphasized the responsibility and commitment to prioritize the lives of Belgian citizens and assured that Belgium does not abandon anyone.

The family and friends of Mr. Vandecasteele celebrated the news, expressing their joy on a Twitter account dedicated to campaigning for his release. They eagerly awaited his return, sharing a photo of him standing next to an aircraft under the caption, “Olivier is free! We’re waiting for you!”

Mr. Vandecasteele had worked for several aid agencies, including the Norwegian Refugee Council, during his six-year stay in Iran. After leaving the country in 2021, he returned in February 2022 against the advice of the Belgian government to close down his apartment in Tehran. Unfortunately, he was arrested by the Revolutionary Guards during his visit and taken to Tehran’s Evin prison.

On the other hand, Iranian state TV broadcasted images of Mr. Assadi sitting with top officials at Tehran’s airport, though he was described as being “not in a condition to speak.” Iran’s Foreign Minister expressed gratitude for Oman’s role in securing Mr. Assadi’s release, emphasizing that he was an innocent diplomat who had been illegally detained in Germany and Belgium for over two years.

The implementation of the prisoner exchange treaty between Belgium and Iran, signed last year, faced delays until March due to a legal challenge from the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an opposition group allegedly targeted by Mr. Assadi. The NCRI, the political wing of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) or People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI), criticized Belgium for paying “a shameful ransom to terrorism and hostage-taking” and claimed that the transfer violated the Belgian constitutional court’s order.

Mr. Assadi, who served as a third counselor at the Iranian embassy in Vienna, Austria, was accused of providing explosives and a detonator to a Belgian couple of Iranian origin who planned to bomb an NCRI rally. He was arrested in Germany and later extradited to Belgium to face trial, as the German court ruled that his diplomatic immunity did not apply in Germany due to his arrest while on holiday outside his host state.

News source: BBC

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