Belgian NGO worker sentenced to 28 years in prison in Iran
Olivier Vandecasteele, a Belgian humanitarian worker who has been held in an Iranian cell for nine months, has been sentenced to 28 years in prison in Iran. Olivier Van Steirtegem, a personal friend acting as spokesman for the family, confirmed the news to Belga on Wednesday. "It is no longer a matter of debate, but of life and death," the family said. "Do we decide to leave an innocent Belgian in the Iranian dungeons until he is 69?"
Nathalie Vandecasteele, Olivier's sister, and Olivier Van Steirtegem met with Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo, Foreign minister Hadja Lahbib and Justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne on Tuesday. There they learned of Vandecasteele's sentence. According to the family, the ministers said that they would "continue to explore all possible avenues that could lead to Olivier Vandecasteele's return to Belgium".
The ministers' cabinets have not confirmed the information about Vandecasteele's conviction for the time being. The Justice cabinet does point out that the minister will answer a question on the matter in the relevant parliamentary committee on Wednesday afternoon.
Vandecasteele was detained in Iran on 24 February, but the charges against him are still unknown. He is locked up in isolation, suffers from serious health problems and cannot be assisted by a lawyer of his own choosing, his family said. The Belgian-Iranian treaty, which allowed a prisoner swap between Vandecasteele and convicted Iranian terrorist Assadollah Assadi, was scrapped by the Belgian Constitutional Court last week. That would be the only way to get him released. Vandecasteele has been on hunger strike for a month.
© BELGA / Vandecasteele