In a noteworthy development, Belgium and Iran have successfully executed a prisoner exchange involving the liberation of Belgian humanitarian worker Olivier Vandecasteele and Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi. With great relief, the Prime Minister of Belgium announced that Mr. Vandecasteele, who endured a harrowing 455 days of confinement in Tehran under excruciating conditions, is now en route back home. Meanwhile, Iran’s foreign minister took to Twitter to declare that Mr. Assadi, who had been unjustly detained for a grueling two-year period, was also returning home.
The process of this remarkable exchange was facilitated through the diplomatic efforts of Oman, which acted as an intermediary and brokered the agreement between the two nations. Initially, both individuals were transported to Oman, where the transfer took place.
Mr. Vandecasteele had been sentenced to an astonishing 40 years in prison, accompanied by 74 lashes, in January following his conviction on espionage charges and other allegations by an Iranian court. Throughout the entire ordeal, Mr. Vandecasteele vehemently maintained his innocence, while Belgium staunchly declared that the charges against him were entirely baseless and represented a vengeful response to the sentencing of Mr. Assadi.
Conversely, Mr. Assadi was handed a 20-year prison sentence by a Belgian court after being found guilty of plotting a bomb attack against a rally organized by an exiled Iranian opposition group in France. Iran consistently asserted that his arrest, trial, and subsequent sentencing contravened international law.
The Prime Minister of Belgium, Alexander de Croo, released a statement announcing Mr. Vandecasteele’s successful transportation from Iran to Oman on Thursday evening. Upon arrival in Oman, Mr. Vandecasteele received care from Belgian military personnel and diplomats, including medical evaluations. Prime Minister de Croo expressed his hope that Mr. Vandecasteele would be reunited with his loved ones on Friday evening, declaring, “If everything goes according to plan, he will be with us this evening. Free at last!” The joyful announcement was met with immense relief and celebration from Mr. Vandecasteele’s family and friends, who shared the news on a dedicated Twitter account established to advocate for his release. Accompanied by a photograph of him standing beside an aircraft at night, they wrote, “Olivier is free! We’re waiting for you!”
Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian of Iran took to Twitter to express his satisfaction with the liberation of Mr. Assadi, whom he described as an innocent diplomat of their country. He further stated that Mr. Assadi had been illegally detained in Germany and Belgium for over two years, clearly violating international law, and was now en route back to his homeland. Minister Amir-Abdollahian also expressed gratitude towards Oman for its pivotal role in facilitating the release.
In an official announcement, the Omani foreign ministry confirmed that the released detainees from Iran and Belgium had been safely transported from Tehran and Brussels to Muscat. It commended the constructive and cooperative spirit demonstrated during the discussions held in Muscat between the Iranian and Belgian delegations and their unwavering commitment to resolving this humanitarian issue.
It is noteworthy that Belgium and Iran entered a controversial prisoner exchange treaty the previous year. However, its implementation had been delayed until March due to an unsuccessful legal challenge launched by the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). This opposition group claimed to be the target of Mr. Assadi’s alleged plot. The NCRI, which represents the political wing of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) or People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI), criticized Belgium for what it deemed as the payment of