Belgian aid worker Oliver Vandecasteele, sentenced to 40 years in prison by Iran for “espionage”
UPDATE, JUNE 2:
Iran has freed another three imprisoned foreign and dual nationals in return for Belgium’s release of Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, convicted over his supervision of a plot to bomb a rally in Paris.
Austrian-Iranian dual nationals Kamran Ghaderi and Massoud Mossaheb and a Danish national are returning to their homes, announced Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg and Danish counterpart Lars Løkke Rasmussen.
Schallenberg said he was “very relieved” that Ghaderi and Mossaheb were freed after “years of arduous imprisonment in Iran”. Rasmussen said he was “happy and relieved that a Danish citizen is on his way home to his family in Denmark after imprisonment in Iran”.
Both foreign ministers thanked compatriots in Oman, who brokered the talks with Iran, and Belgium for “valuable support”.
Businessman Ghaderi was arrested in 2016 and sentenced to 10 years over regime claims that he spied for the US. Mossaheb, also a businessman, was arrested in 2019 and given a 10-year prison sentence.
Amnesty International noted Mossaheb’s “grossly unfair trial for vague national security offenses”, and said he suffered from heart failure and diabetes.
Schallenberg said the Foreign Ministry would spare no effort to secure the release of a third Austrian national in Iran whose case is currently on appeal.
UPDATE, 1444 GMT:
The exchange of Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, serving a 20-year sentence in Belgium over his supervision of a bomb plot, for Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele has been confirmed.
Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, who received a 20 yr prison term for plotting to bomb an MEK event in Paris, receives hero’s welcome upon arrival in Tehran. Assadi was released in a prisoner swap deal facilitated by Oman. pic.twitter.com/02G8fal4Cr
— Golnaz Esfandiari (@GEsfandiari) May 26, 2023
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Iran has released Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele, held for 455 days in Tehran’s Evin Prison, in a prisoner swap.
Oman, which brokered the exchange, did not identify the freed Iranian.
However, it is likely to be Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, given a 20-year sentence by a Belgian court in 2021 for his role in a bomb plot.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian posted that Assadi was returning to Iran, thanking Oman for its “positive efforts”, but he later deleted the tweet.
Vandecasteele was given a 40-year prison term in January for “espionage”. Belgium’s Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne told Parliament at the time that the sentence, for a “fabricated series of crimes”, was leverage to obtain the release of Assadi.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said on Friday that the aid worker was returning “after 455 days in prison in Tehran in unbearable conditions”.
Eindelijk vrij. Enfin avec nous. pic.twitter.com/XrZzv96nin
— Alexander De Croo 🇧🇪🇪🇺 (@alexanderdecroo) May 26, 2023
Assadi was charged with overseeing a plan to attack a Paris rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
The NCRI is the political branch of the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization, which has sought the overthrow of the Islamic Republic since soon after the 1979 Revolution. It was banned in Iran in 1981, and was listed as a “terrorist” group by the European Union until 2009 and by the US until 2012.