Thousands demonstrate in Brussels to demand the release of a Belgian aid worker in Iran

By Marine Strauss

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Thousands of people took to the streets of Brussels on Sunday to protest against the detention in Iran of Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele, sentenced to 40 years in prison for espionage.

The Belgian government said the charges were false.

“His life is in danger, contribute to his freedom”, “#Free Olivier Vandecasteele”, read banners held by demonstrators which included Vandecasteele’s family, friends and colleagues.

Following Vandecasteele’s sentencing last month, Belgium’s justice minister said the Belgian was imprisoned “for a series of fabricated crimes” and was sentenced in retaliation for a 20-year prison sentence that Belgian courts had inflicted on an Iranian diplomat in 2021.

The Belgian Constitutional Court will hold a hearing next month on the legality of a Belgian prisoner exchange treaty with Iran. Belgian media have suggested this could lead to a prisoner swap between the two countries involving the Iranian diplomat, convicted of planning a bomb plot against an opposition group in exile, and Vandecasteele.

(Reporting by Marine Strauss @StraussMarine, Clément Rossignol; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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