Belgian freed by Iran gets hero’s welcome in Brussels

Brussels, May 26 (EFE).- A Belgian aid worker who spent 455 days behind bars in Iran arrived here Friday aboard a military aircraft that took off from Oman.

Olivier Vandecasteele was met at Melsbroek airbase on the outskirts of Brussels by family and friends who chanted his name and applauded as he descended the stairs of the Airbus A400M transport plane.

Looking gaunt but with a smile on his face, he embraced loved ones on the tarmac.

Also on hand to greet Vandecasteele were Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo, Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib, and Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonder, though they remained in the background as family members and friends rushed to welcome the former prisoner home.

Vandecasteele was transported from Iran to Oman, where a delegation of Belgian diplomats and military personnel was waiting to receive him.

The team included physicians who examined Vandecasteele to verify that he was well enough to make the long flight to Brussels.

“Olivier Vandecasteele is on his way to Belgium. If everything goes as planned, he will be with us tonight. Finally free”, De Croo told Belgians earlier Friday.

Oman’s government confirmed the Belgian citizen’s arrival and its own role in facilitating a prisoner exchange between the two countries.

“To fulfill the requests of the Iranian and Belgian governments to assist in resolving the issue of detained citizens in both countries, the Omani efforts have resulted in an agreement,” Oman said in a statement.

To secure Vandecasteele’s freedom, Belgium agreed to release Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, serving 20 years in a Belgian prison for plotting to attack Iranian opposition activists in Paris.

“We have been concerned about Olivier’s fate for over a year. For me, one thing has always prevailed. We will not abandon an innocent compatriot,” De Croo said. “We don’t leave anyone behind in our country, especially not someone who is innocent.”

Iran detained the 41-year-old Vandecasteele in February 2022 and in January upheld his sentence to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes for espionage, cooperation with the United States, and currency smuggling, among other crimes.

Belgian authorities insisted the charges were fabricated and insistently demanded his release. EFE cat/sc/dr

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