May 24. 2024. 6:03

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Belgian Court to soon decide over prisoner swap deal with Iran


The prisoner swap treaty between Belgium and Iran could free Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele, currently trapped in Iran, if an agreement is reached in the coming weeks.

In January, Olivier Vandecasteele – the Belgian aid worker who has been detained in Iran for almost a year – was sentenced to 74 lashes and 40 years in prison for espionage and undermining national security, a sentence the European Parliament strongly condemned in a resolution on the EU response to the protests and executions in Iran.

Vandecasteele’s sentence is based on “fabricated espionage charges” and the “cynical use of hostage diplomacy to force the release of convicted terrorist Asadollah Asadi”, the Parliament’s resolution read.

Last year, Belgium negotiated a prisoner swap deal with Iran, which provides a legal way to transfer a convicted person in Iran back to Belgium. Such a treaty would allow for the exchange of Vandecasteele 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 back in Iran. The Iranian opposition in exile welcomed this decision.

But even if some academics, legal experts and politicians were initially opposed to this swap deal, since Vandecasteele was convicted, his situation has changed, and his life is clearly at risk. His health is also deteriorating, according to his family.

After the oral hearings on the prisoners swap treaty, which started on Wednesday, the Court will have to determine whether or not the treaty should be cancelled. It has to render its decision by 8 March at the latest.

The Chamber of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution asking the government “to use all diplomatic means” to demand Iran immediately release the aid worker and to bring the matter up for discussion at the Council of the EU – which Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said she would do.

“We will do everything it takes to plead the case and convince the Court that this deal is necessary,” Belgian Justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne said on Radio 1 on Wednesday.

He declared that it was one of the hardest cases he had been confronted with and said the government would do everything possible to free the aid worker.

Van Quickenborne is sure he can convince the Court to approve the swap deal because “his right to life is threatened”.

However, the minister does not want to speculate on the final outcome of this case. He only said that his time and energy were put into Vandecasteele’s case and in defence of the swap treaty.

(Anne-Sophie Gayet | EURACTIV.com)