Mayor of Tehran's presence at Brussels Urban Summit causes political backlash

The mayor of Tehran was present at the Brussels Urban Summit on Tuesday at the City Hall of Brussels, drawing criticism from several politicians.

The summit hosts some 2,000 politicians, academics and civil society representatives to discuss the future of cities. Alireza Zakani was invited by Metropolis, an international network for cities worldwide.

In response to Zakani's presence, Theo Francken (N-VA) referred to the recent release of Oliver Vandecasteele from jail in Iran. “Last month hang up a large poster of Vandecasteele, last week shed a tear in front of the cameras, this week invite his kidnappers to Brussels town hall," he said in a tweet.

Brussels MR leader David Leisterh added: “It is shocking and regrettable. I ask for an explanation: rolling out the red carpet for those holding hostages is not acceptable."

Imprisoned in Iran

There are currently several Europeans detained in prison in Iran, including the Iranian-Swedish physician Ahmadreza Djalali. Djalali, affiliated with the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), has been detained in Iran for seven years. NGO worker Vandecasteele was released after 15 months of imprisonment in Iran. Along with three other hostages, he was exchanged for the Iranian terrorist Assadollah Assadi.

Brussels secretary of state Pascal Smet ( did not deny his role in facilitating a visa for Zakani even after the foreign ministry reportedly advised against issuing one.

Zakani is the founder of the Society of Supporters of the Islamic Revolution’ and a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, a paramilitary body that the European Parliament called to be listed as a terrorist group by the EU.

"Brussels is a diplomatic capital"

"The Brussels Urban Summit is a major city conference with more than 2,600 registered participants from 600 participating cities worldwide. Tehran is a member of the global Metropolis network and was invited in this capacity," Smet's office said in a statement. "Brussels is a diplomatic capital. Being present does not mean that you agree with everyone. Consultation is and will remain the core of diplomacy."



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