Iran has held a Belgian man for the past four months on charges of “espionage”Belgium’s Justice Minister revealed on Tuesday as his country weighed a controversial prisoner-exchange treaty with Tehran.
man was captured in Iran on February 24 and has been in “illegal” detention ever sincethe minister, Vincent Van Quickenborne, told Belgian deputies without identifying him.
Belgium last year jailed an Iranian diplomat for 20 years after he was convicted on “terrorist” charges for planning an attack outside Paris in 2018.
While Quickenborne did not give the identity of the arrested Belgian, Iran International, a Saudi-funded media outlet based in London, reported that a 41-year-old former Belgian aid worker is detained in Iran.
The outlet said the Belgian’s arrest appeared to be another case of Iran “imprisoning foreigners as hostages to exchange them with certain Iranians imprisoned in Western countries.”
Among those detained by Iran is a Swedish academic who also has Iranian citizenship, Ahmadreza Djalali, who taught at a university in Brussels. Iran has also charged Djalali with “espionage” and has sentenced him to death.
Quickenborne said officials from the Belgian embassy in Tehran had twice visited the imprisoned Belgian to give him all possible help, and that his family had made his arrest public on Tuesday. “I cannot say more, at the express request of the family,” said the minister.
The Belgian Parliament will vote on Thursday whether to ratify a bilateral treaty with Iran that would open the way to the repatriation of prisoners from both countries.
Quickenborne said on Tuesday, presenting the treaty proposal to MPs for debate, that “if the bill is not approved in its entirety, it will increase the threat to our Belgian interests and to certain Belgian citizens.”
Nevertheless, some US lawmakers are pressuring Belgium to drop the treaty proposal, which was signed in March. One of them, Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, tweeted that he was “shocked to discover that the Belgian government has struck a deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism and plans to send Iranian terrorists back to Iran to plan more terrorist acts.”
Jailed Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi was convicted by a Belgian court in February 2021 of “terrorist” attempted murder and “participation in the activities of a terrorist group.” He was found guilty of supplying explosives for a June 30, 2018 bomb attack at an event held outside Paris by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (CNI) dissident group.
Information provided by various European intelligence services allowed Belgium to foil the attack by intercepting the car carrying the bomb. A two-year investigation into the plot determined that Assadi was an Iranian agent operating under diplomatic cover..
Assadi was arrested in Germany, where he was denied diplomatic immunity because he was attached to the Iranian embassy in Austria, and extradited to Belgium to stand trial. He chose not to appeal his conviction. Tehran has protested his conviction.
Lawyers for the NCRI, whose core is made up of a militant organization known as the MEK, said the proposed Belgian-Iranian treaty was designed to allow Assadi to return to Iran.
The controversy in Belgium over the deal comes at a time when European powers are trying to bring Iran and the United States back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. That pact was greatly weakened when former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States in 2018.
Since then, Iran has leapt forward with its uranium enrichment to a level that puts it near the point where it could produce nuclear weapons.
(With information from AFP)
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