Foreign minister meets Iranian counterpart to discuss imprisoned Belgian aid worker

Belgian minister of Foreign Affairs Hadja Lahbib met late Monday morning with her Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, on the sidelines of the 52nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Both ministers had a discussion on human rights and, more specifically, the imprisonment of Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele in Iran, Lahbib explained afterwards.

Since 24 February 2022, a Belgian aid worker, Olivier Vandecasteele, has been imprisoned in Iran. Belgium is trying to obtain his release, but the Constitutional Court has temporarily suspended a prisoner transfer treaty with Iran. A new ruling on the matter is expected next week, on Wednesday (8 March).

The case of the Belgian prisoner, sentenced to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes after a "sham trial" and held in "undignified conditions", was discussed during the meeting, the Belgian minister confirmed. "Olivier Vandecasteele must be reunited with his family without delay. His arbitrary detention in inhumane conditions must end. I also discussed human rights in Iran and our firm opposition to the death penalty," she said in a tweet.

"The death of Mahsa Amini and the resulting protest movement across Iran indicate both the need for freedom of expression and the sense of injustice felt by the population"

If the Constitutional Court does not annul the prisoner transfer treaty, Vandecasteele could be used as a bargaining chip against Iranian diplomat Assadolah Assadi, sentenced in Belgium to 20 years in prison for a planned attack on an Iranian opposition rally in France.

Lahbib also discussed the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic, particularly concerning women and girls, and condemned the violent repression of demonstrations after a young woman's death.

"The death of Mahsa Amini and the resulting protest movement across Iran indicate both the need for freedom of expression and the sense of injustice felt by the population. We condemn the imprisonment of protesters and the death sentences handed down against them," she said.



Belgian Foreign minister Hadja Lahbib © BELGA PHOTO ERIC HERCHAFT

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