Aid worker arrives in Belgium after prisoner swap with Iranian diplomat

Olivier Vandecasteele, a Belgian humanitarian worker who had been jailed in Iran for 15 months, arrived in Belgium late Friday after being deported in a military plane, images broadcast on television showed. 

The 42-year-old was received on the tarmac of the Melsbroek military post outside Brussels by his parents, sister, and other family members after he was released on Friday. 

The images shown on RTL-TVI channel showed that the plane bringing him back from Oman landed shortly after 9:30pm (1930 GMT). 

Vandecasteele was arrested during a visit to Iran in February 2022 and sentenced to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes in January on charges that included spying. 

The Belgian government said on Friday they had reason to believe that Iran had been planning to increase his sentence. 

Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, said earlier that in the swap, a diplomat, Assadolah Assadi, was released from Belgium. 

Assadi was jailed in Belgium over a 2018 plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally outside Paris. 

The Iranian foreign minister tweeted that Assadi, “the innocent diplomat of our country… is now on his way back to his homeland and will soon enter our beloved Iran”. 

Oman’s foreign ministry said in a statement that “the Omani efforts have resulted in an agreement between the two sides for a mutual exchange deal” and both Belgium and Iran thanked Oman for its role in securing the release. 

Belgium prime minister’s comment 

Belgium has always claimed that Vandecasteele was innocent and after news of his release, Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said, “Olivier spent 455 days in prison in Tehran in unbearable conditions. Innocent.” 

“For me, the choice has always been clear. Olivier’s life has always come first. It’s a responsibility that I take upon myself, that I accept. In Belgium, we do not abandon anyone,” he added. 

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