Iran releases jailed Belgian aid worker in prisoner swap

Belgium and Iran conducted a prisoner exchange in Oman on Friday as officials said Tehran released a Belgian aid worker in exchange for an Iranian diplomat convicted of attempting to bomb a meeting of exiles in France.

The initial announcement by Oman’s Foreign Ministry did not identify the prisoners being swapped but Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said in a statement that the aid worker, Olivier Vandecasteele, has been freed.

Iranian state television later said, in an on-screen graphic, that the diplomat would be freed. “Informed sources report the release of Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat detained in Belgium,” Iranian state TV said. “Further details will be announced.”

Aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele had been arrested on a visit to Iran in February 2022 and sentenced in January to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes on charges including spying.

Iranian diplomat Asadollah Assadi was convicted in Belgium in 2021 in connection with a foiled bomb plot in France and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Belgian and Iranian authorities have rejected the charges against Vandecasteele and Assadi respectively as fabricated.