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Belgian Detained In Iran As Brussels Mulls Controversial Prisoner-Swap Treaty With Tehran

By RFE/RL July 05, 2022

Iran has been holding a Belgian man for the past four months on "espionage" charges, Belgium's justice minister has said, as the country considers a controversial treaty with Tehran.

The man was seized in Iran on February 24 and has been in "illegal" detention since, Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne told Belgian lawmakers without identifying him. Some reports suggested that Iran had arrested an former NGO worker.

Quickenborne said officials from Belgium's embassy in Tehran had twice visited the jailed man to give all possible assistance, and that his family had earlier on July 5 made public his detention.

"I cannot say more, at the express request of the family," the minister said.

His comments came as Belgium's parliament is set to debate whether to ratify a proposed treaty with Iran that could allow an Iranian diplomat serving a 20-year sentence for plotting a bomb attack outside Paris to be sent back to Tehran.

The treaty has been criticized by opposition lawmakers and lawyers for a dissident Iranian group, who say it would pave the way for Assadollah Assadi, convicted of terror charges and sentenced in February 2021, to be repatriated.

The treaty's text "is tailored to Assadi", opposition deputy Georges Dallemagne said.

Assadi was found guilty of attempted terrorism after a plot to bomb a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled opposition group, near Paris in June 2018. The NCRI is the political wing of the exiled Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO or MEK), an exiled opposition group that is seeking to overthrow the Islamic republic.

Dallemagne predicted the Belgian government would present any release of Assadi as a "humanitarian operation," a trade for a Swedish-Iranian academic, Ahmadreza Djalali, who is being held in Iran under sentence of death.

Djalali was accused of providing information to Israel to help it assassinate several senior nuclear scientists. He taught at a Brussels university. However, it is not clear if he would be covered by the treaty as he doesn't have Belgian nationality.

Amnesty International said in May that Iranian authorities were using Djalili as a hostage "to pervert the course of justice in Sweden and Belgium."

The London-based rights group suggested that Iran's threat to execute Djalali was tied to the trial in Stockholm of Hamid Nouri, a former prison official, who is accused of having a role in the mass execution and torture of political prisoners at an Iranian prison in the 1980s. Amnesty also said that Iran wants the release of Assadi.

Contacted by AFP, a spokesman for Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne said, "there is no connection with Djalali's case."

He added that the minister would "explain his point of view" to parliament on July 5. The spokesman declined to give further details.

A copy of the treaty obtained by AFP showed it was signed on March 11 by the Belgian Justice Ministry and the Iranian ambassador to Belgium. It says that "the best way" to boost cooperation with Iran in justice matters was to allow convicts to serve out their sentences in their home countries. It also allows that each jurisdiction grant amnesty to the returned convicts or commute their sentences.

"This is an erosion of the legal system," opposition lawmaker Michael Freilich said. "Iran has made clear publicly that they don't see Assadi as a terrorist, but as a diplomat. He will be freed as soon as he steps foot on Iranian soil."

Debate on the treaty was to start on July 5, with the full parliament to vote whether to adopt it later in the week.

With reporting by AFP and Politico

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/iran-belgium- treaty-djalali/31929459.html

Copyright (c) 2022. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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