From Europe to Iran to help the poor: sentenced to 40 years and 74 lashes

A disproportionate and inhuman punishment. Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele, under arrest in Iran since February 24, was sentenced to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes. The verdict was confirmed by Tehran after that for several hours the only news of the man with decades of experience in international crisis scenarios behind him came from the Iranian media. The charges are “espionage for foreign intelligence services” and responsibility for actions “against Iran”.

The initial silence of the official channels and the news of the conviction led to the summoning of Tehran’s ambassador to Brussels. The Belgian government, in addition to the understandable request for clarification from the Iranian diplomat, was forced to act after the appeals of the family of Vandecasteele himself, who asked the executive to do everything possible to free the aid worker. As reported by the Belgian newspaper De StandardVandecasteele is used by the Iranian authorities as a bargaining chip to free the terrorist Assadollah Assadi, convicted in Belgium.

Assadi, a man linked to the Iranian secret services who has been in prison since 2018, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for planning an attack in Paris against a meeting of Iranian opponents. “The conspiracy of terror has been unveiled in our country”, underlines the Belgian press.

Vandecasteele has worked for over 15 years for international humanitarian organisations, including Médecins du Monde, the Norwegian Refugee Council and Relief International. He has carried out missions in India, Afghanistan and Mali. In 2015, he became Director of Iran Operations for the Norwegian Refugee Council and in 2020 assumed the same role for Relief International. Among other things, the man was involved in the distribution of humanitarian aid during the Covid-19 pandemic.

After being arrested for espionage, Vandecasteele spent 10 months in solitary confinement. The health problems due to the captivity were documented by a recent visit by the Belgian ambassador to Tehran who said he found the man extremely thin. Vandecasteele said he was forced to participate in what was likely a mock trial. It was filmed for hours as he appeared handcuffed. Initially sentenced to 28 years in prison without even being able to choose a lawyer, Vandecasteele has now received a second sentence which brings the total sentence to be served to 40 years, to which was added the corporal punishment of 74 lashes.

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According to the family, Vandecasteele was “deeply desperate” when he learned that the prisoner exchange treaty with Iran was suspended. In fact, the Belgian Constitutional Court prevents the exchange between him and the Iranian terrorist because the judges fear that the latter could escape punishment in Iran. The Constitutional Court is due to take a final decision on the treaty by March.

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From Europe to Iran to help the poor: sentenced to 40 years and 74 lashes

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