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Belgian humanitarian worker remains detained in Iran as 'new problems arise' in diplomatic proceedings

14:40 09/01/2023

Belgian humanitarian worker Olivier Vandecasteele is said to appear in even worse shape after 10 months of solitary confinement in Iran, where he has been sentenced to 28 years in prison under espionage charges that supporters – and the Belgian state – say are false.

Belgian diplomats in Iran met Vandecasteele for 30 minutes last week in the presence of guards, his family told media, adding that he was reported to appear “thinner and more dark-eyed” since they had last been able to see him.

Vandecasteele was arrested last February after working for international NGOs in Iran for more than six years and told the diplomats that he was forced to participate in a "probably staged trial".

The sentence itself was never even officially made public, according to the Belgian foreign affairs ministry.

Vandecasteele’s family is concerned that he is suffering from health problems.

“New problems with his ears have appeared and one dental treatment did not succeed in treating all the problems,” one family member said.

Last week, Belgian minister of foreign affairs Hadja Lahbib indicated that Vandecasteele is innocent and must be released.

But it seems that Iran views Vandecasteele as a valuable asset in terms of arranging the release of Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian agent convicted in Belgium for a planned attack against the Iranian opposition.

Belgium had negotiated a treaty with Iran to allow the exchange of prisoners between the two countries, but the Constitutional Court suspended the treaty last month.

"The announcement by the Belgian authorities that the transfer treaty had been provisionally suspended caused Olivier to feel deep despair, compounded by a feeling of total abandonment,” a family member said.

People protested for Vandecasteele’s release in Brussels at the end of December and his family continues to campaign for the same, but it seems little progress is being made.

Written by Helen Lyons