Iran’s regime sentenced Belgian aid worker accused of spying to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes

Olivier Vandecasteele, aid worker sentenced to prison by Iran’s regime

Iran’s regime sentenced a Belgian aid worker to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes after finding him guilty of espionage in a closed-door trialthe state press reported on Tuesday.

The website of the Iranian judicial system reported that a court sentenced Olivier Vandecasteele, 41, to 12 and a half years in prison for espionage, 12 and a half years for collaborating with hostile governments and 12 and a half years for money laundering. In addition, he was fined the equivalent of one million dollars and sentenced to two and a half years for currency smuggling.

It is not clear if the accusations are related to the massive protests that have ravaged Iran for four months, which the Iranian authorities attribute to foreign powers, although they have provided no evidence. The protests began after the death in September Mahsa Aminia 22-year-old girl, after being arrested by the moral police for not properly wearing the Islamic veil or hijab.

Over the years, Iran has detained a number of foreigners or dual nationals, often sentencing them in secret trials in which human rights groups say defendants are denied the right to due process. Critics accuse Iran of detaining foreigners to use as bargaining chips with the West, which Iranian authorities deny.

Olivier Vandecasteele
Olivier Vandecasteele, during his humanitarian work in the Persian country

Under Iranian law, Vandecasteele will be eligible for release after 12 1/2 years. The judicial system’s website said the ruling can be appealed.

Last month Vandecasteele’s family said he has been in jail for months in Iran and has gone on hunger strike. They said that he has been denied access to the lawyer he chose and that he suffers from severe health problems.

Belgium has advised all its citizens to leave Iran, warning that they may face arbitrary arrest and unfair trials.

“All Belgian visitors, including those with dual citizenship, are at high risk of arrest, arbitrary detention and unfair trial. The risk also applies to people who simply visit Iran for tourism,” Foreign Affairs warned in a statement.

“Iran has not provided official information about the charges against Olivier Vandecasteele or his trial,” Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said in a statement. “We will summon the Iranian ambassador today, given the information circulating in the press.”

Olivier Vandecasteele
Olivier Vandecasteele

The protests are one of the biggest challenges the Islamic Republic has faced since the 1979 revolution that brought it to power.

At least 520 protesters have been killed and more than 19,300 people have been arrested since the demonstrations began., according to Human Rights Activists in Iran. Iranian authorities have not provided official figures on deaths or arrests.

Iran has executed four people after convicting them of protest-related charges, including attacks on security forces.

Norway and Denmark summoned Iranian ambassadors this week to protest the executions and the Iranian response to the demonstrations.

With information from AP

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