New ruling offers a spark of hope for Belgian aid worker in Iranian cell: "It must be over, it has to stop"
On Friday, the Belgian Constitutional Court rejected the appeal against the controversial 'Iran deal', which governs the transfer of prisoners between Iran and Belgium. This means that Olivier Vandecasteele, the Belgian aid worker held in an Iranian cell for more than a year, will soon be able to go home. However, it is not clear when that will be.
"It must be over, it has to stop," says Olivier Van Steirtegem, Olivier Vandecasteele's best friend, addressing the Iranian opposition movement, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). "I ask them to end this nightmare". Vandecasteele has been detained in Iran for over a year, allegedly sentenced to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes for espionage in a sham trial.
Feared prisoner swap
Although the Belgian House of Representatives approved a treaty last summer allowing prisoner exchange between Belgium and Iran, which would allow the aid worker's release, the Belgian Constitutional Court suspended the treaty in early December. The NCRI requested the annulment, fearing that in exchange for Vandecasteele, Belgium would release Iranian terrorist Assadollah Assadi, who was planning an attack on the NCRI in 2018.
"I think it is the first time that the Constitutional Court has not converted a previous suspension into an annulment," constitutional expert Evelyne Maes of ULiège/Université Saint-Louis told De Morgen. According to Maes, the court indicates that it has jurisdiction to rule on this treaty. "But the concrete consideration of the right to life of Assadi's victims versus Vandecasteele's right to a dignified life should be done by another court."
Therefore, Rik Vanreusel, the NCRI's lawyer, plans to appeal to the court of first instance. The Iranian opposition movement intends to exercise its right to challenge the possible transfer of Assadolah Assadi in court, as allowed by the Constitutional Court ruling. According to the NCRI, Assadi's release "violates UN Security Council Resolution 1373 against terrorism and encourages the mullahs' regime to continue and intensify hostage-taking and terrorism".
A lower court will now have to rule on this case. Although it is unclear how it will rule, the Belgian federal government, which drafted the treaty, is satisfied. "The government has always believed that the treaty is an important legal instrument to bring Olivier Vandcasteele back to our country. Therefore, the government is continuing its efforts with determination. To this end, we are in close contact with our compatriot's family," a joint statement read.
Illustration picture shows an action in support of Olivier Vandecasteele, who is imprisoned in Iran, Sunday 26 February 2023 in Brussels. Olivier Vandecasteele is a Belgian humanitarian worker who has worked for more than six years in Iran for international NGOs. On 24 February 2022, he was arrested by the Iranian authorities.
© BELGA PHOTO NICOLAS MAETERLINCK