Belgium agrees to hand over a man convicted of terrorism to Iran in exchange for the release of an aid worker | International

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Olivier Vandecasteele, a Belgian aid worker imprisoned in Iran, and Asadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat convicted of terrorism in Belgium, were released this Friday in a prisoner exchange mediated by Oman, according to information provided by both countries. Vandecasteele was arrested on February 24, 2022 in Tehran for an alleged espionage crime for which he was sentenced to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes. Assadi was convicted in a court in Antwerp (Belgium) in 2021 and sentenced to 20 years in prison for his alleged participation in a frustrated terrorist attack in France. Both Iran and Belgium have denied the charges against their citizens, considering them fabricated.

Alexander De Croo, Prime Minister of Belgium, affirmed this Friday that Vandecasteele was already on his way to his country and that he would arrive that same afternoon. “Olivier flew to Oman last night, where he was cared for by a team of Belgian soldiers and diplomats. This morning he underwent various medical examinations to assess his health and allow him to return in the best possible condition”, he stated.

For its part, Iranian state television reported that Assadi was already in Tehran and showed him sitting with officials, including government spokesman Ali Bahadori Jahromi. Hossein Amirabdollahian, Iran's Foreign Minister, thanked the Sultanate of Oman for his mediation through his Twitter account. "Our country's innocent diplomat, who was illegally detained in Germany and Belgium for five years in violation of international law, is now on his way to his homeland and will soon arrive in his beloved Iran," he wrote.

Iran's National Council of Resistance (CNRI), made up of Iranian dissidents in exile and based in Albania and France, has disagreed with the exchange. A rally held near Paris in 2018 by this organization was the target of the foiled attack for which Assadi ended up in prison. An Antwerp court found him guilty of having planned the attack following orders from his government, according to the judicial investigation. Through a statement, the CNRI ensures that the release of the diplomat, 15 years before the end of his sentence, encourages terrorism. He also maintains that this release violates the ruling of the Belgian Constitutional Court, which established that the Government must inform the victims before the transfer so that they have the opportunity to appeal in court.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Oman, the country that has mediated the prisoner exchange, reported that an agreement had been reached under which the prisoners were transferred from Brussels and Tehran to Muscat, the Omani capital, for Prepare your repatriation. The Gulf Arab country enjoys good relations with both Iran and Western countries and has previously acted as an arbitrator in matters such as prisoner exchanges. The Sultan of Oman, Haitham bin Tariq al-Said, is scheduled to travel to Iran on Sunday for a two-day visit.

The Belgian Minister of Justice stated at the time of Vandecasteele's conviction that it was based on false evidence and amounted to retaliation for Assadi's prison sentence. The Belgian aid worker was arrested in Tehran just days after an Antwerp court sentenced the diplomat. Belgian police had intercepted him in June of that year in a car in which explosives were found. For the aid worker's family, the temporal sequence of events shows that Vandecasteele has been a hostage of the Iranian regime. In fact, both the opposition in Belgium and the CNRI assured after learning of the aid worker's sentence that Tehran intended to exchange him for Assadi, as has finally happened.

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