July 5, 2022 – More than 400 leading Iranian human rights activists, dissidents and family members of victims of Iranian state repression and violence have called on the Belgian parliament not to ratify a proposed prisoner swap treaty with Iran.
The treaty would allow Iranians convicted in Belgium to serve their sentences in Iran, while Belgians convicted in Iran could serve their sentences in Belgium, and it would also allow each party to grant amnesties, according to press reports.
If ratified, the bill would allow Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, who is imprisoned in Belgium after being convicted in February 2021 of “attempted murder and involvement in terrorism” for an attempting bombing plot, to escape justice and return to Iran.
“This bill only encourages the Iranian government’s outrageous policy of hostage-taking,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“This bill is exactly what the Iranian government wants,” said Ghaemi. “It’s a gift to the Iranian government’s worst rights oppressors, allowing them not only to nab foreign and dual nationals with impunity, but to gain from it.”
“We, a group of Iranian social and political activists, warn the Belgian parliament and government that the extradition of [an Iranian diplomat] convicted of a terrorist act would be tantamount to giving the Iranian government unlimited freedom to continue its policy of taking hostages, kidnapping, and assassination,” said the joint statement published on July 4, 2022.
“If this bill is approved, the Belgian government would be responsible, alongside the Iranian regime, for any future threats from the Iranian government against citizens in Western countries,” added the statement, the signatories of which include Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, human rights activist Iraj Mesdaghi, as well as human rights lawyers Saeid Dehghan and Mohammad Seifzadeh.
The Belgian parliament began debating the bill, which has also received international condemnation including from U.S. lawmakers, on July 5, with legislative leaders aiming to have it ratified before the parliamentary summer break, according to Politico.
“Countries taking a unilateral approach to this inhumane practice will only create a revolving door for foreign hostages in Iran. Ending Iran’s hostage-taking requires international unity,” Ghaemi stressed.
Bill Paves the Way for More Impunity, Hostage-Taking by Iran
At least 15 dual nationals, five foreign nationals and one foreign permanent resident were known to be held in Iran (imprisoned, under house arrest, or prohibited from leaving the country) as of July 2022, according to research by CHRI.
The government in Iran has been holding a Belgian man for the past four months on “espionage” charges, according to Belgium’s Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne.
The man was detained in Iran on February 24, 2022, and has been in “illegal” detention since then, Quickenborne told Belgian lawmakers without identifying him.
The Belgian government has not officially linked the case to the prisoner swap treaty, yet some media reports have suggested that the detainee may be former NGO worker Olivier Vandecasteele.
The treaty could also allow for the release of Swedish nationals detained in Iran, including Ahmadreza Djalalia physician and disaster medicine expert who has been jailed in Iran since April 2016.
In May 2022, the Iranian government renewed threats that it would execute Djalali just as a trial in Sweden against Hamid Nouri, an Iranian official accused of war crimes, wrapped up.
“The international community needs to join together to forcefully discourage Iran’s blatantly unlawful behavior, not embolden the most brutal elements of Iran’s security-intelligence apparatus,” Ghaemi said.