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Iran says diplomat jailed in Belgium to be freed in prisoner swap

April 26, 2023 at 2:54 pm

Police take security measures at crime scene where a policeman is killed as a result of knife attack at North Train Station in Brussels, Belgium on November 11, 2022 [Dursun Aydemir – Anadolu Agency]

An Iranian diplomat sentenced to 20 years in jail in Belgium is set to be released in a prisoner swap between Brussels and Tehran, Iran’s judiciary announced on Wednesday, Anadolu News Agency reports.

At a weekly press conference in Tehran, judiciary spokesman, Masoud Setayeshi, said a deal has been finalised with Belgium on the transfer of prisoners and necessary documents have been prepared as well.

He said Brussels had requested a prisoner swap that is expected to include Belgian aid worker, Olivier Vandecasteele. Tehran also demanded the release of Assadollah Assadi, a Counsellor at Iran’s Embassy in Vienna.

Assadi, 48, was arrested in Germany in June 2018, days after a car allegedly carrying explosives was held in Brussels.

Belgian authorities, at the time, claimed the explosives were sent on the instructions of Assadi to target a rally of an Iranian exiled opposition group in France.

In February 2021, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a court in Antwerp in Belgium, the first time an Iranian diplomat faced such charges in a European country since the 1979 revolution.

Following the verdict, Iran’s Embassy in Brussels said the Belgian court had no jurisdiction in the matter, and vowed to resort to all legal mechanisms to fight the sentence.

In January, Iran’s judiciary sentenced Vandecasteele, a Belgian national, to 40 years in prison, apart from 74 lashes on four charges, including espionage and some financial crimes.

The two sides, for months, discussed a prisoner swap deal, which would see the release of both Assadi and Vandecasteele.

Last month, Belgium’s Constitutional Court upheld the deal. Belgian lawmakers gave their approval to the deal in July, but legal challenges mounted by Iranian opposition group MKO, designated by Iran as a “terrorist organisation”, delayed the process.

The Iranian announcement confirms that the legal hurdles have been overcome. Setayeshi said both sides “can transfer the convicts whenever they want”.

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