Iran sentences Belgian aid worker to prison, lashes

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (APP) – Iran has sentenced a Belgian aid worker to long prison terms and 74 lashes for espionage in a closed-door trial, state media reported Tuesday.

A revolutionary court sentenced Oliver Vandecastel, 41, to 12.5 years in prison for espionage, 12.5 years for collaborating with enemy governments and 12.5 years for money laundering, Iran’s judiciary website said. He was also fined $1 million and sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for currency smuggling.

Under Iranian law, Wendy Casteel will be eligible for parole after 12.5 years. Decisions can be appealed, the judiciary’s website said.

Iran has detained scores of foreigners and dual nationals over the years, accusing them of espionage or other state security crimes and convicting them after secret trials that rights groups say are illegal. That they have been denied due process.

Critics allege that Iran is using such prisoners as bargaining chips with the West, which Iranian officials deny. Vandecastel’s sentence comes after an Iranian diplomat was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Belgium in 2021. For planning a failed bomb attack against an exiled Iranian opposition group in France.

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Iran has not released any details about the charges against Vandecastel. It is not clear if they are related to the anti-government protests. Which has plagued Iran for months or even longer in a shadow war. With Israel and the US marking secret attacks on Iran’s controversial nuclear program.

Nationwide protests erupted after the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mehsa Amini, who was detained for violating Iran’s strict Islamic dress code. Demonstrators rallying under the slogan “Women, Life, Freedom” say they are fed up with decades of social and political oppression. Iran has blamed foreign powers for the protests without providing evidence.

Vandecastelle’s family said last month that he had been held in an Iranian prison for several months and was on hunger strike. He said he lacks access to a lawyer of his choice and suffers from serious health problems.

Belgium has urged its citizens to leave Iran.warning that they face the risk of arbitrary arrest or unfair trial.

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“Iran has not provided any official information regarding the charges against Olivier Vandecastel or his trial,” Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahabib said in a statement. “In view of the information circulating in the press, we will summon the Iranian ambassador today.”

He said that Belgium condemns this arbitrary detention and is doing everything possible to end it and improve the conditions of his detention.

The anti-government protests, which have continued for nearly four months with no sign of abating, are the biggest challenge 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 arrested, according to human rights activists in Iran, a group monitoring the unrest. Iranian authorities have not provided official figures on deaths or arrests.

Iran has executed four people on charges related to protests, including attacks on security forces. They were convicted in revolutionary courts, which do not allow those on trial to choose their own lawyers or see evidence against them.

London-based Amnesty International has said such trials “bear no resemblance to a meaningful judicial process.”

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

Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said that what is happening in Iran is completely unacceptable and must be stopped. “We have strongly condemned the execution. We have called on Iran to end the use of the death penalty and respect human rights.

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

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

Without providing evidence, the report said spy teams planned to assassinate an unnamed top military official and carried out several acts of sabotage in the country’s major cities.

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

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