Belgian Aid Worker, Iranian Diplomat Released in Prisoner Swap

    Belgian Aid Worker, Iranian Diplomat Released in Prisoner Swap
    Last updated May 26, 2023
    Image credit: Khashayar Kouchpeydeh [via Unspalsh]


    • Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele and Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi were swapped on Friday in Oman following a deal brokered by the Gulf country and a bilateral prisoner exchange treaty signed last year, which was upheld this spring by Belgium's constitutional court.[1]
    • Vandecasteele, who spent 455 days in prison in Tehran, was sentenced in a closed-door trial in January to 40 years in prison, 74 lashes, and a $1M fine on charges of espionage — allegations which Brussels and his family deny.[2]
    • He worked for six years in Iran for the Norwegian Refugee Council and other aid agencies until 2021, returning to Tehran in February 2022 to move out of his apartment against Belgian government advice.[3]
    • Meanwhile, Assadi was sentenced in 2021 to 20 years in jail for allegedly orchestrating a thwarted bombing against an exiled Iranian opposition group in France despite Tehran arguing that he was "an innocent diplomat."[4]
    • Later identified by Belgian intelligence as an officer of Iran's security ministry operating undercover at the Embassy in Austria, he was tied to a couple reportedly trying to target a meeting of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq — an Iranian exile organization — in Villepinte.[5]
    • Iran has long come under scrutiny for detaining foreign and dual nationals on charges of violating state security.[6]


    Anti-Iran narrative

    While it's great news that Olivier Vandecasteele has been released after being unjustly detained in Iran for over a year, it is shameful that a convicted terrorist needed to be exchanged for his freedom. Assadollah Assadi is a dangerous criminal who plotted a bombing against Iranian dissidents in France. This deal only incentivizes Iran’s illegal detention of foreign nationals to use as pawns to free terrorists, betray human rights, and wield leverage in nuclear deal negotiations.

    Pro-Iran narrative

    The release of Assadollah Assadi is great news for Iran and justice. After being falsely accused of terrorism and illegally detained for more than two years, he can finally return home to where he belongs. Assadi is a patriot and would never be involved in any terrorist activities, yet Belgium defied international law by detaining him for two years without any rights.

    Nerd narrative

    There's a 50% chance that Iran will cease to be an Islamic Republic by April 2037, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

    Establishment split



    More neutral establishment stance articles

    Sign up to our newsletter!