Belgium ratifies controversial treaty

The Belgian deputies were sent back, on the evening of Wednesday July 20, a Belgo-Iranian treaty on the transfer of condemned prisoners strongly decried by Iranian opponents in exile in Europe, who see in it the door open to the handing over to Tehran of a condemned Iranian in Belgium for terrorism. The bill including this treaty signed in March between Belgium and Iran was approved by a large majority, by 79 votes for, 41 against, and eleven abstentions.

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Defended by the government, which presented it as the only way to free a Belgian aid worker who had been held hostage for five months in Tehran, the text had already been approved in committee on July 6. Since the revelation of its content three weeks ago, this bilateral treaty has provoked a fiery debate in Parliament, where the same concerns have been expressed as those of Iranian opponents and their supporters.

These opponents believe that the text opens the way to a surrender to Tehran, and a possible pardon, of Assadollah Assadi, sentenced in 2021 in Belgium to twenty years in prison in particular for “terrorist assassination attempts”. The text is “tailor-made” for him, “it is a treaty for the release of a terrorist convicted in Belgium”denounced just before the vote of the centrist deputy Georges Dallemand, applauded by the Flemish nationalists of the N-VA, the first opposition party.

Pressure around Assadollah Assadi

Tried by the court of Antwerp (North), Assadollah Assadi was found guilty, in February 2021, of having orchestrated a terrorist project foiled in extremis on June 30, 2018, when Belgian police officers arrested near Brussels a couple from Belgo – Iranians in possession of explosives. The couple were traveling to France, where an attack was to target that day near Paris the annual gathering of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a coalition of opponents of the Tehran regime including the People’s Mojahedin Organization ( GUY).

The Antwerp judges showed that Mr. Assadi had fomented this project on behalf of Iranian intelligence, under diplomatic cover. While stationed at the Embassy in Vienna, he had been arrested on 1uh July 2018, in Germany, and handed over to Belgium three months later. The procedure ulcerated Tehran, which was found to have violated Mr. Assadi’s diplomatic immunity. “We call on the Belgian government to immediately release the Iranian diplomat”a spokesperson for Iran’s Foreign Ministry said again on Wednesday.

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At the beginning of July, by representing to the deputies this treaty “on the transfer of sentenced persons”, Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne struggled to allay concerns and disassociate the text from the Assadi case. He acknowledged that, upon the arrest of the “so-called diplomat”in an investigation by the Belgian anti-terrorist justice, the “interests” of Belgium and its 200 nationals in Iran have become targets of potential reprisals. “From day one, we felt pressure from Iran, and the security situation of our interests deteriorated systematically”said Mr. Van Quickenborne.

“A Rogue State”

The proof of the seriousness of these threats came on February 24, when a Belgian humanitarian worker, Olivier Vandecasteele, was arrested without reason in Tehran, which justifies today, in the eyes of the Belgian executive, the urgency of the ratification of the treaty signed on March 11 in Brussels. “Iran is a rogue state, but we don’t choose who we talk to”and released Mr. Vandescasteele is “our priority”hammered the Minister of Justice on Tuesday after six hours of intense debate in the House.

Same creed from the Prime Minister, Alexander De Croo, who raised his voice in the face of deputies criticizing “an odious song” we “a form of ransom” from Iran with the 41-year-old Belgian hostage. “What are you telling his family, that we’re going to let him rot in his cell?”a thundered Mr. De Croo on July 14th. Belgium does not abandon its fellow citizens. » For their part, the family of Mr. Vandecasteele implored the authorities to ” do everything “ for this release, insisting on the deterioration of the physical and mental health of the humanitarian worker.

The World with AFP

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