A veiled nephew of Oliver Vandecasteele sits in a fake cell during a protest against his uncle’s detention in Iran, on April 22, 2013 in Tornaci, Belgium.
Olivier Vandecasteele, a Belgian humanitarian worker, detained for 455 days in Iran, was released on Friday in a prisoner exchange between Brussels and Tehran, in an operation mediated by Oman.
Oman’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that the two prisoners were “transferred from Tehran and Brussels to Muscat (…) to prepare for their return to their countries” without mentioning the identity of the beneficiaries.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo, for his part, reported that Vandecasteele was already in Oman and could return to the country this Friday.
“Olivier was transferred to Oman, where he was received by the Belgian military and diplomats. He underwent a medical examination to assess his state of health and allow his return in the best possible conditions,” he said.
For his part, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian announced on Twitter that Belgium has released the passport of Assadollah Assad, convicted of attempting to carry out a 2018 bomb attack outside Paris.
In a tweet, Abdollahian noted that “the innocent diplomat of the country (…) is on his way to his country and will soon be dear to Iran.”
Vandecasteele was sentenced by Iranian courts in January to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes for espionage.
– clear option –
“My choice has always been clear. Oliver’s life has always been in the first place. It is a duty that I have undertaken and I accept. We will not leave anyone behind in Belgium,” said the Belgian prime minister.
Last year, Belgium and Iran signed a treaty that opened the door to prisoner exchanges.
That situation has been widely criticized because various parties have claimed that Iran is encouraged to arrest Belgian citizens as a bargaining chip to win the freedom of people like Assad.
The Iranian opposition group the National Council of Resistance in Iran (CNRI) was one of the strongest opponents of the agreement, and even took the case to the Belgian courts, which in March gave the green light to the agreement with Iran.
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Assadi, who served as an Iranian diplomat in Austria, was arrested and convicted of organizing the bombing of the CNRI rally outside Paris.
However, De Croo stated that a deal with Iran was the only way to regain Vandecasteele’s freedom.