Belgium’s Constitutional Court announced on Friday, March 3rd, it would uphold a controversial treaty with Iran, also known as the ‘Iran deal.’ Through it, Olivier Vandecasteele, a Belgian NGO worker, could be exchanged for convicted Iranian terrorist Assadollah Assadi.
For over a year, Vandecasteele has been jailed in Iran, where last January, as reported by The European Conservative, he was sentenced to 40 years in prison as well as 74 lashes on what Brussels has declared ‘sham’ espionage charges. According to Vandecasteele’s family, his health is severely compromised.
In Belgium, Assadi was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2021 for his role in a planned but foiled 2018 bomb plot in Paris. A possible swapping of the two prisoners has stirred controversy in Belgium, as there would be no guarantee that Assadi would serve the remainder of his sentence in Iran.
The treaty, agreed upon by both parties, contains the proviso that detainees be sent to their home countries so they can continue serving their sentences there.
In light of this reality, the judges specified that, should the government decide to transfer a prisoner to Iran, it must inform its victims so they could contest the specific case in court.
“Thus, when the Government takes a decision to transfer, it must inform the victims of the relevant convicted person in such a way that they can effectively seek a review of the legality thereof by the Court of first instance,” it said.
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open Vld), Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open Vld), and Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib (MR) have voiced their satisfaction that the Court had “followed our reasoning.”
“This ruling on the merits confirms the fact that this transfer treaty meets all standards of international law,” the ministers said in a joint response. “Our country has such a treaty with 74 countries.”
The government believes that the treaty is an important legal instrument for bringing Olivier Vandecasteele back to Belgium.
“The government is resolutely continuing its efforts to this end. We are in close contact with the family of our compatriot for this purpose,” the statement reads, concluding that it would “now take the necessary steps to finalize the treaty, taking into account the Constitutional Court ruling.”
In December last year, the Court suspended part of the Iran deal to prevent Assadi’s transfer. If Iranian authorities release Assadi, the Court then declared, it would violate the right to life of those who had escaped the planned attack. The same year, just before the summer recess, the House of Representatives had rubber-stamped a treaty with Iran.
Decrying the decision, exiled Iranian opposition group ‘National Council of Resistance of Iran’ (NCRI), a British NGO, and several other high-profile individuals, asked Belgium’s Constitutional Court to have this treaty annulled—an effort which has seemingly come to naught.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a meeting of which was the planned target of Assadi and his fellow conspirators, has stated it plans to exercise its right to waylay Assadi’s transfer.
It views Assadi’s release as a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1373 against terrorism which “encourages the mullahs’ regime to continue and intensify hostage-taking and terrorism.”