Brussels urges Belgians to leave Iran due to risk of arrest

The Belgian government on Sunday called on Belgians in Iran to leave the country, engaged in a violent crackdown on nationwide protests, because of the risk of arbitrary arrest and imprisonment.

“All Belgian visitors, including (dual) nationalities, run a high risk of arrest, arbitrary detention and unfair trial. This risk also applies to people who simply visit Iran for tourism,” the government said in a statement.

“In the event of arrest or detention, respect for fundamental rights and the safety of individuals is not guaranteed,” the statement said.

“In this context, the capacity of the Belgian Embassy in Tehran to provide consular protection to nationals arrested or detained in Iran is very limited.”

The ministry explained the new advice, saying: “Recently, a Belgian and several other Westerners were arbitrarily arrested and are currently imprisoned in Iran.”

Belgian nationals in Iran were advised to limit their movements and “avoid any form of gathering”.

This summer, 200 Belgians were registered with the country’s consular service in Iran.

The ministry’s statement comes after Brussels officials said on Wednesday that Iran had imposed a 28-year prison sentence on a Belgian aid worker, sparking an already acrimonious debate over a stalled exchange treaty.

Olivier Vandecasteele was arrested in February and is reportedly being held in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison in conditions Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne described as “inhuman”.

– Prisoner exchange dispute –

Belgium insists he is innocent, effectively taken hostage in Tehran’s efforts to force Belgium to release an Iranian agent convicted of terrorism.

The news of Vandecasteele’s sentence has revived the debate in Belgium about an exchange treaty with Iran.

The government of Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has described this in the past as the only option for a transfer.

The treaty was signed with Iran earlier this year and while not explicitly tailored for Vandecasteele, Brussels confirmed he would have been eligible for exchange.

But last week, Belgium’s Constitutional Court suspended implementation of the treaty pending a final ruling on its legality within the next three months.

Opponents of the Iranian government have challenged the deal, which they say was “tailor-made” to allow for the release of Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat sentenced to 20 years in prison last year.

An Antwerp court convicted Assadi of supplying explosives to a couple from Belgium who would travel to Paris to attack a meeting of the Iranian opposition in exile.

In Spain, relatives and friends of Spanish soccer fan Santiago Sanchez, arrested in Iran on his way to the World Cup, demanded his release on Sunday at a rally outside Tehran’s embassy in Madrid.

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