Protesters demand Iran release jailed Belgian aid worker Vandecasteele

© Yves Herman, Reuters

Hundreds of demonstrators on Sunday urged Belgium to push harder to secure the release of aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele, held by Iran in a case decried as "hostage diplomacy".

The crowd, gathered in freezing temperatures in central Brussels, chanted "Free Olivier" and sang Happy Birthday to mark Vandecasteele's 42nd birthday this week.

"The aim is to show the government that we cannot leave an innocent person there," his sister Nathalie told AFP.

Olivier Van Steirtegem, a spokesman for the family, insisted that "every minute, every second counts" and that they hoped growing public pressure for his release would push the Belgian authorities to find a solution faster.

Iran arrested Vandecasteele in February 2022, and he has since been held in conditions that Belgium's government has described as "inhumane".

The authorities sentenced him this month to more than 12 years behind bars for "espionage" as well as ordering him to be subjected to 74 lashes.

UN rights experts have slammed Vandecasteele's detention as a "flagrant violation" of international law.

His backers and rights groups contend he is being held as part of Iran's "hostage diplomacy" to try to get Belgium to release an Iranian diplomat incarcerated for terrorism.

The diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, was found in guilty in 2021 of masterminding a plot to blow up an event organised by an Iranian exiled opposition group outside Paris in 2018.


Read more on FRANCE 24 English

Read also:
Belgium makes EU parliament arrests in Qatar corruption investigation
Belgium opens landmark trial into 2016 Brussels suicide bombings
Belgium ratifies controversial prisoner swap treaty with Iran