Former Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi arrived in Tehran on May 26, 2023 after he was released from a jail in Belgium.

World Outraged And Disappointed Over Release Of Terrorist Diplomat

Friday, 05/26/2023

Activists are outraged over an Oman-brokered swap deal according to which Iranian diplomat convicted of terrorism was freed in exchange for a Belgian hostage.

Asadollah Assadi, a former attaché at the Iranian embassy in Austria who was convicted of plotting to bomb a gathering of the exiled opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK) near Paris on June 30, 2018, was released and arrived in Tehran on Friday.

Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele, who was detained in 2022 and sentenced to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes for alleged “spying and cooperation with the United States, money laundering and smuggling $500,000 out of Iran,” was also released as part of the deal.

Assadollah Assadi (center) received a hero's welcome by government spokesman Ali Bahadori Jahromi (right) and Kazem Gharibabadi, the deputy head of the Judiciary who is also secretary of the High Council for Human Rights as well as several other officials.

The Belgian Parliament ratified the controversial prisoner swap treaty with Iran on July 20, but a temporary ban on the extradition of the convicted diplomat was announced by the Brussels Court of Appeal late in July following numerous complaints.

The critics of the accord warned that such a treaty would effectively establish Belgium as a “sanctuary country” for terrorist operations, and a haven for Iranian intelligence services to maintain a European command center. In March, Belgium's Constitutional Court rejected a request to annul a prisoner exchange treaty with the Islamic Republic paving the ground for the release of the diplomat.

Iranians and human rights activists feel betrayed and disappointed that Belgium released Assadi after huge rallies and and dozens of officials warning against such an act. Following his release, Iranian expatriate communities held protests in several cities to denounce Belgium's move to free the regime's diplomat.

Rights group Amnesty International said in a statement that "By transferring Assadollah Assadi to Iran, the Belgium government has contributed to a climate of impunity for the extraterritorial targeting of Iranian dissidents for extrajudicial execution, torture, and other ill-treatment, and undermined the rights of victims to justice, reparations and guarantee non-recurrence of violations."

In an interview with Iran International on Friday evening, Darya Safai, an Iranian-born member of the Belgian Parliament, described the day as “a black and bitter day for impunity and injustice for Iran and the world.”

“The Islamic Republic of Iran takes innocent people as hostages, blackmails, plans terror attacks on European soil, kills brave freedom fighters in Iran and yet the world continues to grovel and do as they demand,” she said, adding that “This regime will never stop capturing victims if it is rewarded in this way without a problem.”

According to the lawmaker, the Belgian government was supposed to inform the plaintiffs in Assadi's case before releasing him, but it did not do so.

Alireza Akhondi, an Iranian-born member of the Swedish parliament who has been very active in defending the ‘Women, Life, Liberty’ movement, also told Iran International that it is a shameful day in history.

He mentioned several names of the iconic martyrs of the uprising who have lost their lives in the path of Iran’s freedom, saying that such an event proves that the opposition should expand its efforts to make the world stand against this regime, which has been using the hostage-taking tactic for 44 years.

Reacting to the release of Assadi, exiled Prince Reza Pahlavi said that exchanging hostages for the regime’s terrorists “will not only fail to end the Islamic Republic’s hostage taking, but it will also encourage the regime to take further hostages and carry out further acts of terrorism.”

Pahlavi added that during his meetings with European lawmakers and politicians, he made it clear that the only solution lies in coordinated action from a position of strength. He called on world countries to “recall ambassadors from Tehran and expel the regime's ambassadors; Put the IRGC on the list of terrorist organizations; Help the people of Iran achieve the freedom and democracy that they deserve and are sacrificing for.”

The National Council of Resistance of Iran, an organization parallel to MEK and led by its leader Maryam Rajavi, which had mounted a fierce campaign against the deal, issued a statement following the prisoner swap, condemning it as a shameful appeasement with the Islamic Republic’s policy of hostage taking.

“The release of the terrorist, who organized and commanded the biggest criminal act in Europe after the Second World War, by violating the Court’s order, is a shameful ransom for terrorism and hostage-taking. This will embolden the religious fascism ruling Iran to continue its crimes in Iran through repression and regional and international terrorism,” read their statement.

The group added that “The release of this terrorist diplomat takes place while the Constitutional Court had clearly stated in its judgment that the Belgian government should inform the victims before transferring the convicts so that they have the opportunity to once again take the issue to court.”

The Islamic Republic has a long history of hostage diplomacy, which started soon after the establishment of the regime, with taking hostage American diplomats and embassy staff in 1979 for 444 days. UN experts and international human rights organizations say that the Islamic Republic takes foreigners hostage to extract concessions from the West.

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