May 27. 2024. 8:39

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Belgian FM meets Iranian counterpart over Belgian detainee

Olivier Vandecasteele, a Belgian detained in Iran and sentenced to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes, was one of the more pressing topics discussed between Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Hadja Lahbib and her Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on Monday.

In January, Vandecasteele – the Belgian aid worker detained in terrible conditions in Iran for a year – was sentenced on the grounds of espionage and undermining national security, which the European Parliament strongly condemned in a resolution on the EU response to the protests and executions in Iran.

On Monday morning, on the sideline of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Lahbib met with her Iranian counterpart Amir-Abdollahian to discuss human rights and Vandecasteele’s situation.

The Council comprises 47 UN member states elected by the UN General Assembly. On 1 January, Belgium joined the Council for three years.

“Olivier Vandecasteele must be reunited with his family without delay. His arbitrary detention, in inhumane conditions, must end,” Lahbib tweeted after the meeting.

Last year, Belgium negotiated a prisoner swap deal with Iran, which would allow for the transfer of Vandecasteele back to Belgium in exchange for Assadolah Assadi – an Iranian diplomat convicted in Belgium for a planned bomb attack on the Iranian opposition in France.

However, the Belgian Constitutional Court suspended the agreement in December as Assadi could have avoided his sentence and been released once in Iran.

After the oral hearings (which started on 15 February), the Court will determine whether or not the treaty should be cancelled, a decision that should be made by 8 March.

On Twitter, Lahbib also indicated that she discussed human rights in Iran and Belgium’s “firm opposition to the death penalty”.

According to Iranian news media, Amir-Abdollahian expressed Iran’s readiness to solve the problem related to the two countries’ prisoners “in the framework of the previous agreement”.

Quds News reported that he also underlined the “wrong assessment” of some European actors regarding the recent troubles in Iran and emphasised that bilateral relations and issues should not be affected by it. He also stressed the importance of maintaining talks.

During her speech at the 52nd session of the Human Rights Council, Lahbib referred to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which Iran did not sign.

“[…] The rights of women and girls are far from being respected in many parts of the world, and in some places, the regression is worrying, to say the least,” she said.

She also pointed directly to Iran, mentioning the “continued discrimination against women and girls” and notably the death of Mahsa Amini, which resulted in protest movement across Iran. For the Belgian foreign minister, these protests “indicate both the need for freedom of expression and the sense of injustice felt by the population.”

“We condemn the imprisonment, the death sentences handed down and executed against the protesters,” she added.

(Anne-Sophie Gayet |