Iran sentences Belgian aid worker to prison and whipped

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran has sentenced a Belgian aid worker to a long prison term and 74 lashes after convicting him of espionage in a closed trial, reported official media on Tuesday.

Iran’s justice website said a revolutionary court sentenced Olivier Vandecasteele, 41, to 12.5 years in prison for espionage, 12.5 years for collaborating with hostile governments and 12.5 years for money laundering. ‘silver. He was also fined $1 million and 2.5 years for currency trafficking.

According to Iranian law, Vandecasteele would be eligible for release after 12.5 years. The court website said verdicts can be appealed.

Iran has detained a number of foreigners and dual nationals over the years, charging them with espionage or other state security offenses and convicting them after secret trials in which rights groups say they are being denied due process.

Critics accuse Iran of using these prisoners as bargaining chips with the West, which Iranian officials deny. Vandecasteele’s sentencing comes after an Iranian diplomat in Belgium was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2021 for orchestrating a foiled bomb attack on an exiled Iranian opposition group in France.

Iran has not released any details of the charges against Vandecasteele. It is unclear whether they are linked to anti-government protests that shook Iran for months or a long shadow war with Israel and the United States marked by covert attacks on Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

The nationwide protests began after the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was detained for allegedly violating Iran’s strict Islamic dress code. Gathered under the slogan “Women, life, freedom”, the demonstrators say they are fed up with decades of social and political repression. Iran blamed the protests on foreign powers, without providing evidence.

Vandecasteele’s family said last month that he had been held in an Iranian prison for months and was on a hunger strike. They said he was denied access to a lawyer of his own choosing and suffered from serious health problems.

Belgium urged its nationals to leave Iranwarning that they risk being arbitrarily arrested or judged unfair.

“Iran has not provided any official information regarding the charges against Olivier Vandecasteele or his trial,” Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said in a statement. “We are going to summon the Iranian ambassador today, given the information circulating in the press.”

“Belgium continues to condemn this arbitrary detention and does everything possible to end it and improve the conditions of his detention,” she said.

The anti-government protests, which have been going on for nearly four months with no sign of ending, are one of the biggest challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution that brought it to power.

At least 520 protesters have been killed and more than 19,300 people have been arrested, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that monitors the unrest. Iranian authorities have not provided official figures on deaths or arrests.

Iran has executed four people after convicting them of charges related to the protests, including attacks on security forces. They were sentenced by revolutionary courts, which do not allow those tried to choose their own lawyers or see the evidence against them.

Amnesty International, based in London, said such trials bear “no resemblance to meaningful legal proceedings”.

Norway and Denmark summoned Iranian ambassadors this week to protest Iran’s executions and handling of protests.

“What is happening in Iran is totally unacceptable and must stop,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said. “We strongly condemned the executions. … We called on Iran to end the application of the death penalty and to respect human rights.”

In Denmark, Foreign Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen called the executions “completely unacceptable” and said the European Union should impose additional sanctions on Iran.

Separately on Tuesday, the state-run IRNA news agency said Iran’s intelligence ministry had arrested six teams of operatives linked to Mossad, Israel’s main intelligence and secret service agency.

Without providing evidence, the report said the spy teams planned to assassinate an unnamed senior military official and had carried out several sabotage operations in major cities across the country.

The report also indicates that security forces identified 23 suspected members of these teams and arrested 13 who were in the country.

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