Belgium Ratifies Much-Criticized Prisoner Swap Treaty With Iran
By RFE/RL's Radio Farda July 21, 2022
Belgian lawmakers have ratified a fiercely criticized treaty allowing prisoner exchanges with Iran, potentially opening the way for an Iranian diplomat imprisoned on terrorism charges to return home.
Following a heated two-day debate, parliament voted 79-41 in favor of the deal, which had already won approval from a parliamentary commission on July 6.
Prime Minister Alexander de Croo's government has said the treaty is the only solution for the release of Olivier Vandecasteele, a Belgian aid worker jailed in Iran.
Vandecasteele, 41, was detained in Tehran by Iranian authorities in February, apparently without charge.
But critics including members of an exiled Iranian opposition movement say Brussels is backing down in the face of what is in effect hostage-taking by Tehran.
The deal would imply the release and possibly even pardon of Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, who was last year sentenced to 20 years in connection with a plot to bomb a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled opposition group, outside Paris in June 2018.
Tehran has demanded that Belgium recognize Assadi's diplomatic status and release him.
The NCRI is the political wing of the exiled Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization, an exiled opposition group that seeks to overthrow the Islamic republic.
The Belgian opposition alleged the agreement with Tehran was tailor-made to permit Assadi's release while Iranian exiles have held street protests.
Last week, a group of 11 human-rights organizations appealed to Belgium to cancel the agreement.
In a joint statement released on July 12, the groups said it could result in the release of a convicted terrorist and "legitimize Iran's hostage-taking."
The groups warned that the agreement violates the commitment of Belgium and the European Union to hold perpetrators of terrorist acts accountable.
With reporting by AFP
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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