DUBAI, United Arab Emirates ( Associated Press) — Iran has sentenced a Belgian aid worker to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes for spying behind closed doors, state media reported Tuesday.
The Iranian judicial system website reported that a court sentenced 41-year-old Olivier Vandecastelle to 12-and-a-half years in prison for espionage, 12-and-a-half years for collaborating with hostile governments and 12-and-a-half years for money laundering. In addition, he was fined the equivalent of one million dollars and sentenced to two and a half years for currency smuggling.
It is unclear whether the allegations are related to mass protests that have ravaged Iran for four months, which Iranian officials blame on foreign powers, though they have provided no evidence. The protests began after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old girl, in September after being detained by moral police for not wearing the Islamic veil or hijab properly.
Over the years, Iran has detained many foreigners or dual citizens, often sentencing them in secret trials that human rights groups say deny defendants their right to due process. Critics accuse Iran of detaining foreigners to make deals with the West, which Iranian officials deny.
Under Iranian law, Vandecastille would be eligible for release after 12 1/2 years. The judicial system’s website said the verdict could be appealed.
Last month Vandecastille’s family said he had been imprisoned in Iran for months and went on a hunger strike. He said that he has been denied access to his chosen lawyer and is suffering from serious health problems.
Belgium has advised all its citizens to leave Iran, warning they could face arbitrary arrests and unfair trials.
“Iran has not provided official information regarding the charges against Olivier Vandecastille or his trial,” Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said in a statement. “Given the information circulating in the press, we will summon the Iranian ambassador today.”
The protests are one of the biggest challenges facing the Islamic republic since the 1979 revolution that brought it to power.
According to human rights activists in Iran, at least 520 protesters have been killed and more than 19,300 arrested since the protests began. Iranian officials have not provided official figures on deaths or arrests.
Iran has executed four people after being convicted of protest-related charges including attacks on security forces.
Norway and Denmark this week summoned Iranian ambassadors to protest the Iranian response to the executions and demonstrations.