Fears that Belgian held in Iran is being used as bargaining chip

The Swedish Iranian Ahmadreza Djalali VUB guest professor Ahmadreza Djalali is not the only person with ties to Belgium that is being held in an Iranian prison. Since February, a Belgian employee of an international NGO has been held in custody in Teheran. Tuesday’s edition of the daily ‘De Standaard’ reports that the security services fear that the Belgian might be used as a bargaining chip.

During the past few days there has been a great deal of controversy about a bill that if passed by MPs will make it possible to for Belgium to exchange prisoners with Iran. The bill will be discussed today (Tuesday 5 July) by the Foreign Affair Select Committee of the Federal Parliament. 

Initially it had been presumed that the idea behind the bill was to facilitate the release and return of Professor Ahmadreza Djalali. Although not a Belgian national, Professor Djalali has ties to our country as he works as a guest lecturer at Brussels’ Dutch-Medium Free University VUB. He has been held in Teheran since 2016. In October 2017 he was sentenced to death at a show trial in the Iranian capital. 

The presumption was that he would be exchanged for the Iranian ­Assolah Assadi. Last year Mr Assadi was sentence to 20 year’s imprisonment by a court in Antwerp for having masterminded a foiled terror attack against members of the Iranian opposition in France.

However, it has now transpired that a Belgian that works for an international NGO has been held in custody in Iran since February. The regime-critical Persian-language television channel Iran International that broadcasts from London reports that the Belgian is in his 40s and is called Olivier Vandecasteele (photo above). He has not been accused of any crime and is reportedly being held so that he can be used by the Iranian regime as a bargaining chip for Mr Assadi’s return.



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