A spokesperson for the Belgian justice minister has rejected Iran’s claim that an Iranian diplomat imprisoned in Belgium will “soon” be released in a prisoner swap.
In March, Belgium’s Constitutional Court dismissed a legal challenge to a prisoner transfer treaty with Tehran, fuelling expectations that Asadollah Assadi will be swapped for a Belgian aid worker jailed in Iran, Olivier Vandecasteele.
On April 18, Belgium’s government submitted a request to Iran that Vandecasteele be sent back to his country in accordance with the treaty.
“Belgium has requested an exchange and so have we for our diplomat Asadollah Assadi,” Iranian judiciary spokesperson Masoud Setayeshi said on April 26, according to the judiciary's website Mizan Online.
“Following the necessary protocols, such an exchange will be done soon,” Setayeshi added.
But a spokesperson for Belgium’s Justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne called the announcement “a false message from a rogue state that specializes in making false statements.”
“They do this to manipulate and confuse an innocent compatriot and his family,” the spokesman, Van Quickenborne, told Belgian public broadcaster VTM.
Assadi was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2021 for masterminding a plot to blow up a 2018 Iranian opposition event outside Paris.
Vandecasteele was arrested in February 2022 and sentenced in January this year to 40 years in prison after what Amnesty International called a “grossly unfair” trial that lasted only 30 minutes.
Belgium repeatedly said there were no grounds for Vandecasteele’s detention. Its justice minister said he was convicted "for a fabricated series of crimes" and in retribution for Assadi's jailing.
Vandecasteele’s family has recently said he was being held in solitary confinement in Tehran's Evin prison. The prisoner complained in a phone call that "he could no longer sleep and could barely stand up straight because of excruciating muscle and nerve pain."
Western governments have repeatedly accused the Islamic Republic of taking dual and foreign nationals hostage to use them in prisoner swaps or as a bargaining chip in international negotiations.