Belgian aid worker held in Iran returns home
Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele, who was detained for almost 15 months in Iran, landed in Belgium late Friday, according to images broadcast on television, after being freed in a prisoner exchange.
The 42-year-old Belgian was greeted by his parents, sister and other family members on the tarmac of the Melsbroek military base near Brussels following his release on Friday.
The military plane bringing him back from Oman landed shortly after 9:30pm (1930 GMT), according to the images shown on RTL-TVI channel.
Earlier Friday, Iran freed Vandecasteele in a prisoner exchange for an Iranian diplomat convicted of terrorism.
Iran announced that the freed Iranian is diplomat Assadollah Assadi, who was jailed in Belgium over a 2018 plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally outside Paris.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian tweeted that Assadi, “the innocent diplomat of our country… is now on his way back to his homeland and will soon enter our beloved Iran.”
Both Belgium and Iran thanked Oman for its role in securing the release.
Belgium has always insisted that Vandecasteele was innocent and his trial rigged.
– ‘We do not abandon anyone –
He was sentenced in January to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes for “espionage”, Tehran’s judiciary said at the time.
“Olivier spent 455 days in prison in Tehran in unbearable conditions. Innocent,” Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said, following news of his release.
“For me, the choice has always been clear. Olivier’s life has always come first. It’s a responsibility that I take upon myself, that I accept. In Belgium, we do not abandon anyone,” he added, without mentioning the prisoner swap.
Last year, Belgium and Iran signed a treaty to enable prisoner swaps.
Wearing a dark suit and trainers, visibly slimmed down but smiling, Vandecasteele emerged from the plane and was hugged at length by his waiting relatives.
He was not expected to make any immediate public statements.