Iran releases Belgian humanitarian Olivier Vandecasteele in prisoner swap

He had been detained for 455 days in Iran. Belgian humanitarian Olivier Vandecasteele was released on Friday, May 26, after an exchange with an Iranian diplomat sentenced in 2021 for terrorism. “As I speak to you, Olivier Vandecasteele is on his way to Belgium. If everything goes as planned, he will be with us tonight.”, said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croosharing its immense “relief”.

The Sultanate of Oman, which acts as a mediator between Tehran and Western countries, explained that this humanitarian had been released as part of a “exchange” between Iran and Belgium. The Iranian detainee is Assadollah Asadi. This diplomat was found guilty of having planned an attack during a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in Villepinte (Seine-Saint-Denis), on June 30, 2018. A Belgian court had sentenced to 20 years in prison in February 2021.

“Assadollah Assadi, an innocent diplomat from our country, who was illegally detained in Germany and Belgium for more than two years in violation of international law, is now on his way back to his country”, welcomed Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. Members of the Iranian opposition in exile, who tried to oppose this exchange, denounced this outcome, citing “a shameful ransom”.

An “unspeakable psychological torture”

A treaty for the mutual transfer of convicts, signed in 2022 between Belgium and Iran and which entered into force on April 18, paved the way for this exchange. Arrested on February 24, 2022, Olivier Vandecasteele had been sentenced for “espionage”. His family denounced the ill-treatment inflicted on him, citing a “unspeakable psychological torture”. “He sleeps and eats on the floor, does not have sufficient access to medical care (…), the light never goes out in his cell”, had recently described Alexander de Croo.

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Several dozen Westerners are still detained in Iran. They are described by their supporters as innocent people used by Tehran as leverage and bargaining chip.

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