Iran’s detention of Belgian aid worker a 'flagrant violation of international law': UN rights experts
A group of UN Special Rapporteurs condemned Iran’s arbitrary detention of Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele on Tuesday, and demanded his immediate release, after he was sentenced to a cumulative 40-year jail term by a court in Tehran.
“We believe Mr Vandecasteele has been arbitrarily deprived of his liberty and is a victim of enforced disappearance for periods of detention,” the independent UN human rights experts said in a statement. “His right to a fair trial before an independent and impartial tribunal has been violated. These are flagrant violations of Iran’s obligations under international law,” they said.
Mr. Vandecasteele was arrested on 24 February 2022 by Iranian security agents and held at Evin prison before being moved to an unknown place of detention. He was in Tehran to end his rental contract and relocate his furniture at the time of his arrest. In their statement, the UN experts declared that he had suffered ill-treatment in detention and his health condition was critical.
The seven men in plain-clothes who arrested him reportedly failed to show an arrest warrant and explain the charges against him. Mr. Vandecasteele was subjected to multiple interrogations, but law enforcement authorities failed to bring him before a judge until November 2022.
Held in solitary confinement
The UN experts said the Belgian national’s access to a lawyer was denied, that he was not permitted to communicate regularly with his family, and that he had limited access to Belgian consular services. According to the statement, Mr. Vandecasteele was transported blindfolded to Evin prison from his secret detention centre to meet with consular officials.
Mr. Vandecasteele was held in solitary confinement since the earliest days of his detention in Evin prison. After he was moved to an unknown location in August 2022, he was held in a windowless room located in the basement with no furniture. According to reports received by the UN experts, Mr Vandecasteele has lost 15 kilos and suffers from serious health problems. In November 2022, 10 months after he was arrested, Mr Vandecasteele launched a two-week hunger strike.
In November 2022, recounted the statement, Mr. Vandecasteele informed Belgian consular officials that he had appeared before a court without the knowledge of local Belgian authorities. Iranian lawyers assigned to Mr Vandecasteele did not speak during the trial, but he was informed that he had been convicted of all charges. On 14 December 2022, Mr. Vandecasteele’s family was notified that he had been sentenced to 28 years of imprisonment.
Mental and physical health concerns
According to local news reports, Mr. Vandecasteele had been sentenced to 40 years of imprisonment and 74 lashes on charges of espionage against the Islamic Republic, cooperating the United States, currency smuggling, and money laundering.
“We are gravely concerned over the mental and physical health of Mr. Vandecasteele and call on the Iranian authorities to release him and guarantee his physical and psychological wellbeing,” the experts said.
In October 2022, at least 21 foreign and dual nationals were detained, primarily on espionage charges. In November, Iran’s judiciary indicated that 40 foreign nationals had been arrested for their involvement in the protests.
The statement to release the many foreign and dual national citizens who remain arbitrarily detained in Iran, and condems the execution on 14 January of the British Iranian, Alireza Akbari after he was sentenced to death for "corruption on earth and harming the country's internal and external security”.
“Alireza Akbari was reportedly subjected to torture and ill treatment including prolonged solitary confinement and forced to make false confessions,” they said.