Iran, Belgium agree to swap prisoners


A statement from the Omani foreign ministry does not identify released persons, but Belgium says aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele was involved in the deal.

Iran and Belgium have agreed to release individuals imprisoned in each other’s countries in an Oman-facilitated deal.

In a statement on Friday, the Omani foreign ministry said people have been transported from Tehran and Brussels to Muscat in preparation for their return to their respective countries. It did not identify the prisoners being exchanged.

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

Iranian state media repeated Oman’s announcement, without giving further details. Iran wants Belgium to return a diplomat convicted of planning a bomb attack in France.

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

Vandecasteele had worked for a number of humanitarian organizations. 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,’ said De Croo.

“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 on charges of espionage or other violations of state security.

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

This is an evolving story. More to follow