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Source: Al Jazeera

May 26, 2023

Iran, Belgium agree to swap prisoners: Oman

Statement by Omani Foreign Ministry does not identify freed individuals, but Belgium says deal involved aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele.

Iran and Belgium have agreed to free individuals imprisoned in each other’s countries in a deal facilitated by Oman.

In a statement on Friday, the Omani Foreign Ministry said the people were transported from Tehran and Brussels to Muscat in preparation for their return to their respective countries. It did not identify the prisoners being swapped.

However, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said in a statement that aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele had been freed.

Iranian state media repeated Oman’s announcement, without offering further details. Iran has been wanting Belgium to return a diplomat convicted of planning a bombing in France.

In January, Iran sentenced Vandecasteele to a lengthy prison term and 74 lashes after convicting him of espionage in a closed-door trial. He also was fined $1 million.

Vandecasteele had worked for a number of humanitarian organisations. The Belgian government and his family had vehemently denied Iran’s claims that he was a spy.

“Olivier spent 455 days in prison in Tehran. In unbearable conditions. Innocent,” De Croo said.

“Olivier Vandecasteele’s return to Belgium is a relief. A relief for his family, friends and colleagues.”

Iran has detained a number of foreigners and dual nationals over the years, accusing them of espionage or other state security offenses.

Critics have repeatedly accused Iran of using such prisoners as bargaining chips with the West.

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