A Belgian aid worker who returned to his “democratic Belgium” five days ago after spending 15 months in arbitrary detention in Iran says he is “doing well” and that he is “gradually getting back in touch with another reality.”
In an open letter shared on social media on June 1, Olivier Vandecasteele also thanked his supporters for their efforts to have him released.
“Having had no direct access to outside information for the entire duration of my detention in solitary confinement (i.e. 13 consecutive months), I was miles away from imagining the extent of the citizen mobilization - which all of you have worn day after day - across the country and across borders,” he said.
Hello everyone, Olivier has message for all of you 👇 5 days home already 🇧🇪 Thank you everyone for your kind support and for being so mindful to us 🙏 #FreeOlivierVandecasteele #OlivierVandecasteele #OlivierIsHome #OlivierIsFree #NotATarget #ThankYou #Freedom pic.twitter.com/eWv2c0m98r— Free Olivier Vandecasteele (@FreeOlivierVDC) June 1, 2023
Vandecasteele was arrested in February 2022 and sentenced in January this year to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes after what Amnesty International called a “grossly unfair” trial that lasted only 30 minutes. He was convicted of espionage against Iran, collaborating with the US government, smuggling foreign currency and money laundering.
He was freed on May 25 in exchange for Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat sentenced to 20 years in prison in Belgium for having plotted to bomb a rally of an exiled opposition group outside Paris in 2018.
Belgium’s justice minister has said Vandecasteele was convicted "for a fabricated series of crimes” in retribution for Assadi's jailing.
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.
In his letter, Vandecasteele said he was “amazed by all the actions - small and large - that were held” to achieve his release.
“Through petitions, Op-eds, demonstrations, banners, drawings, cards and letters, I discover gradually all the words of friends, colleagues, schoolchildren, academics, artists, sportsmen, members of civil society, and more broadly of all Belgian and European compatriots who mobilized to set me free.”