Belgian authorities on Tuesday filed an official request to transfer Olivier Vandecasteele, the Belgian aid worker who has been detained for over a year in Evin prison in Iran, back to his home country.
Last year, Belgium negotiated a prisoner swap deal with Iran, which provides a legal way to transfer a convicted person in Iran back to Belgium. The treaty would allow for the exchange of Vandecasteele for Assadolah Assadi – an Iranian diplomat convicted in Belgium for a planned bomb attack on the Iranian opposition in France.
However, the Belgian Constitutional Court suspended the agreement in December as Assadi could have avoided his sentence and been released once back in Iran. The Iranian opposition in exile welcomed this decision.
In January, Vandecasteele’s situation worsened as he was sentenced to 74 lashes and 40 years in prison for espionage and undermining national security.
Finally, in early March, the Belgian Constitutional Court rejected the appeal for annulment of the prisoner transfer treaty with Tehran, a decision that gave hope for his release.
On Monday, Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib talked to her Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, to discuss the release of the Belgian detainee, the minister announced on Tuesday on Twitter. She once again called for improving his detention conditions and asked for the Belgian ambassador to Iran to be authorised to visit Vandecasteele.
The release could still take some time, as many steps need to be completed. Olivier Vandecasteele agreed to the transfer in March, but the Iranian authorities have to analyse the judgment, the sentence already served and conduct new interrogations.
Vandecasteele’s goddaughter decided that she would lock herself from Saturday (22 April) 6 p.m. for 24 hours in a replica of a prison in the main square of Tournai, the town where he is from, to denounce the “slow progress” in obtaining the release of her godfather. She hopes that this will raise awareness of the authorities working for the liberation and increase the mobilisation in Belgium and beyond.
The student will also gather letters and emails from people who wish to send them to the Belgian Foreign Affairs Ministry.
(Anne-Sophie Gayet | EURACTIV.com)