Belgium considers controversial prisoner swap treaty to release arbitrarily detained Belgian nationals

Belgium considers controversial prisoner swap treaty to release arbitrarily detained Belgian nationals
Belgium’s parliament on Tuesday will debate whether to ratify a proposed treaty with Iran that allows for the return of Belgian nationals arbitrary detained by Tehran in exchange for Iranian prisoners.
2 min read
Iran has loudly demanded that Belgium release Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat who was convicted on terrorism charges [source: Getty]

Iran has been holding a Belgian man for the past four months under "espionage" charges, Belgium's justice minister said on Tuesday, as his country weighed a controversial prisoner swap treaty with Tehran.

The man was seized in Iran on February 24 and has been in "illegal" detention since, the minister, Vincent Van Quickenborne, told Belgian MPs without identifying him.

Belgium last year imprisoned an Iranian diplomat for 20 years after his conviction under "terrorist" charges for plotting a bomb attack outside Paris in 2018.

Live Story

While Quickenborne did not give the detained Belgian's identity, Iran International, a Saudi-financed media outlet based in London, reported that a 41-year-old Belgian former aid worker is detained in Iran.

The outlet said the Belgian's arrest appeared to be another instance of Iran "imprisoning foreigners as hostages to exchange them with certain Iranians jailed in Western countries".

Among those Iran is holding is a Swedish academic who also holds Iranian citizenship, Ahmadreza Djalali, who taught at a Brussels university. Iran also applied "espionage" charges to Djalali and has sentenced him to death.

Quickenborne said officials from Belgium's embassy in Tehran had twice visited the jailed Belgian to give all possible assistance, and that his family had earlier on Tuesday made public his detention.

"I cannot say more, at the express request of the family," the minister said.

Belgium's parliament on Thursday is to vote on whether to ratify a bilateral treaty with Iran that would open the way for prisoners in each country to be repatriated.

Quickenborne on Tuesday said as he presented the proposed treaty to MPs for debate that "if the bill is not fully approved, the threat to our Belgian interests and certain Belgian citizens will increase".

Some US lawmakers, however, are pressing Belgium to ditch the proposed treaty, which was signed in March.

One, Randy Weber, a Republican representative in Texas, tweeted he was "shocked to find out that the Belgian gov has cut a deal with the world's leading state-sponsor of terrorism and plans to send Iranian terrorists back to Iran to plot more terroristic acts".