Belgian Aid Worker and Iranian Diplomat Freed in Prisoner Swap

Iran freed a Belgian aid worker jailed in Tehran for 455 days on espionage charges, in exchange for a former Iranian diplomat convicted of a failed 2021 bomb plot. had gone

Belgian Prime Minister Alexandre de Crowe said on Friday that aid worker Olivier Vandecastelli was flown from Tehran to the Omani capital of Muscat late on Thursday, where the exchange took place.

“Our compatriot Olivier Vandecastel is currently on his way to Belgium,” Mr de Croo said in a video address from Brussels, confirming that the government had secured Mr Vandecastel’s release. After more than a year under “extremely difficult conditions”, he underwent a medical examination to assess his health.

Mr Vandecastel worked in Iran for five years until he lost his job in March 2021 and left the country. When he returned to retrieve some of the goods in February last year, he was arrested by Iranian authorities, who sentenced him to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes for espionage, money laundering and currency smuggling. The Belgian government called Mr Vandecastelle’s detention arbitrary and said Iran had not provided any information about the case.

In exchange for Mr. Vandecastel’s release, Oman negotiated the release of Asadullah Asadi, an Iranian diplomat. Arrested in Germany in 2020 In 2018, a meeting of Iranian opposition leaders in France over allegations of planning a bomb attack. The attack was foiled, but he was later convicted in Brussels in 2021 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Pictures posted. Iran’s judiciary-controlled Meezan news agency reported late Friday that Mr. Asadi had arrived in Tehran.

In a statement posted on Twitter earlier on Friday, Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdullahian, thanked the Omani government for brokering the exchange and sending Mr. Asadi, “an innocent ambassador of our country.” Carr, who had been illegally detained in Germany and Belgium for more than two years against international law” returned to Iran.

Belgium’s parliament approves a much-criticized deal with Iran. In July last year which allowed the exchange of prisoners between the two countries. Critics of the deal said the country was surrendering to a form of blackmail by Iran, putting foreigners at greater risk of being held hostage.

On Friday, Belgian authorities said they had not used the agreement to negotiate Mr Vandecastel’s release, according to the Belga news agency. Still, analysts say Iran has made a habit of using Westerners as pawns.

“It has been a consistent policy of the Iranian government for decades to hold foreign nationals hostage and use dual nationals for their foreign policy purposes,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran. Is.” Based in New York. “Unfortunately it’s working for them,” he said, adding that each prisoner exchange “only encourages the IRGC to take more hostages.”

In a statement on Friday, Amnesty International praised Mr. Vandecastel’s release but said it was “deeply troubled” by an exchange deal that only allowed “extrajudicial executions, torture and other illegal targeting of Iranian dissidents.” maintained an atmosphere of impunity for treatment.”

Kyle Moore-Gilbert, was a British-Australian scholar. Free in Exchange 2020 For three Iranian men who were imprisoned in Thailand for organizing a failed plot to assassinate Israeli diplomats in 2012.

Earlier this month, Iran released two French nationals, Benjamin Brier and Bernard Phelan, on espionage charges. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratalif, a British-Iranian, was released in March. According to his family, after being detained for 6 years as a diplomatic pawn.

Mr. Ghaimi noted that the latest exchange was against him. Background to the increase in executions in the country. At least 209 people have been killed since January. According to the United Nations.

More than two dozen foreign nationals and dual nationals are still held in Iranian prisons.

Kuba Rykewart And Leila Niconzar Cooperation reporting.

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