Iran frees Belgian aid worker in prisoner exchange

Belgian humanitarian Olivier Vandecastelle, detained in Iran for fifteen months, was released on Friday after an exchange with an Iranian diplomat sentenced to 2021 for terrorism.

Without mentioning the prisoner exchange, Belgian Prime Minister Alexandre de Crew declared “Free at last!” declared.

“As I speak to you, Olivier Vandekastel is on his way to Belgium. If everything goes according to plan, he will be with us tonight”, he said, expressing his immense “relief”.

According to Belgian sources, the plane bringing Mr Vandecastille back to the Melsbroek military base near Brussels is expected to arrive at 9:30 pm (7:30 pm GMT).

For its part, the Sultanate of Oman, which plays the role of intermediary between Tehran and Western countries, explained that this humanitarian was issued as part of an “exchange” between Iran and Belgium.

Iranian prisoner Assadullah Asadi. The diplomat, then posted in Vienna, was arrested in Germany on July 1, 2018, and then convicted by Belgian courts of planning an explosive attack, targeting a council meeting the day before. Iranian Resistance (NCRI, Alliance of Opponents), near Paris.

He was sentenced in February 2021 to 20 years in prison in Antwerp (North), to the chagrin of Iran which condemned him for violating his diplomatic immunity.

“Asadullah Asadi, an innocent diplomat of our country, who was illegally detained for more than two years in Germany and Belgium in violation of international law, is now on his way back to his country,” the minister said. Amir-Abdollahian thanked Oman on Twitter.

– “Shameful Ransom” –

Members of the Iranian opposition in exile, who tried – unsuccessfully – to protest the exchange, immediately denounced the outcome, noting that Belgium had paid a “shameful ransom”.

“This will encourage the ruling religious fascism in Iran to continue with its crimes,” the NCRI said.

A treaty for the mutual transfer of convicts signed between Belgium and Iran in 2022 and which came into force on April 18 paved the way for the exchange.

But Belgian government sources said on Friday that the Belgian executive ultimately resorted to Mr Asadi’s transfer, thanks to Article 167 of the constitution that gives him absolute prerogative in matters of foreign policy.

By using this other route “we did not warn the Iranian opposition”, and were thus able to buy time, said one of the sources.

In March, Belgium’s Constitutional Court, seized on by the NCRI, set limits on the use of a 2022 bilateral treaty, specifying that Iranian opponents in exile must be warned of a possible decision to move Mr. May they be able. Oppose it in court.

Dozens of Westerners have been detained in Iran, described by their supporters as innocent people being taken advantage of by Tehran and used as a bargaining chip.

Arrested in Tehran on February 24, 2022, 42-year-old Olivier Vandecastelle was sentenced to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes for “espionage”.

– “Unspeakable Torment” –

His family has since denounced the abuse he suffered “unspeakable psychological torture” by the man, an “innocent hostage of a legal and political battle” pitting Iran and Belgium against each other. Are.

The conditions of his detention fall under “torture”, accused Alexander de Crew testified before the Chamber of Deputies in late April. “He sleeps and eats on the floor, he doesn’t have adequate access to medical care (…), the light never goes on in his cell”.

Olivier Vandecastelle’s release comes two weeks after two French nationals, Benjamin Brière, 37, imprisoned for three years in Mashhad prison in northeast Iran, and Franco-Irish Bernard Phelan, 64, who meanwhile spent seven months in detention Is.

Thirty-five citizens from a dozen EU member states, including four French, are still in detention in Iran, according to Catherine Colonna, the head of French diplomacy.

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