Belgium’s PM says looking into Iran’s request to free jailed diplomat in swap

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Belgium said Thursday it is studying a request from Iran for the transfer of one of its diplomats who is serving time on a conviction for terrorism offences.

“It is true that Iran has officially requested the transfer of Mr Assadollah Assadi” and “we are currently examining that request,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told parliament.


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De Croo raised the case of a Belgian humanitarian aid worker, Olivier Vandecasteele, whom Iran arrested in February 2022 and is holding on “espionage” charges.

The Belgian government has demanded Vandecasteele’s release, saying he is “innocent” of the charges applied against him.

Vandecasteele’s release has been linked to the transfer of Assadi, who was convicted in Belgium of 2021 and sentenced to 20 years in prison for supplying explosives to be used in a foiled bomb attack on an Iranian exiled opposition group outside Paris in 2018.

Last year Belgium and Iran signed a treaty, which came into force on April 18, that would have allowed a swap of prisoners.

But the exiled Iranian opposition group has come out vehemently against such an exchange, saying it would allow Iranian state terrorism to go unpunished.

Belgium on Wednesday accused Iran of trying to “sow confusion” by making statements suggesting a prisoner swap was being prepared.

Iran is holding several dozen Westerners, whom supporters say are being used for “hostage diplomacy” by Tehran.

Belgium’s government says Vandecasteele is being treated in an “inhumane way” as part of state “blackmail.”

Even though his family said on Wednesday that the aid worker had been moved out of isolation in prison, his conditions still amounted to “torture,” De Croo said.

“He has to sleep and eat on the floor, doesn’t have sufficient access to medical care... the light is never put out in his cell,” the prime minister said.

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