Over 1,000 activists gather in Brussels to demand release of Olivier Vandecasteele

Over 1,000 activists gather in Brussels to demand release of Olivier Vandecasteele
Credit: Belga/Justin Namir

On Sunday, some 1,000 activists gathered in Brussels to demand the release of the Belgian former aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele, who has been unjustly sentenced to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes in Iran.

Vandecasteele turned 42 years this week, an opportunity that his family and human rights organisation Amnesty International seized to demonstrate in the centre of Brussels.

"Today is Olivier Vandecasteele's birthday," Amnesty International wrote on social media on Thursday. "He turns 42 and will spend the day alone in an icy isolation cell. In solidarity, we call on everyone to come to Albertina Square in Brussels on Sunday 22 January."

Many people answered that call, and around 1,000 people gathered at the venue in the Brussels city centre from 14:00, according to Brussels police. Marie Van Reeth, organiser of the event, told VRT that between 1,000 and 1,500 people attended, and is very satisfied with the turnout.

Mobilising worldwide

"We really appreciate enormously that despite the cold on this Sunday, so many people came here to show support for Olivier's family, ask for Olivier's release and put pressure on politicians," Van Reeth said.

Wies De Graeve, director of Amnesty International Flanders, pointed out at the rally that the conditions Vandecasteele is being held in are "very penal and contrary to human rights and the ban on torture."

"He has also not received a fair trial, with unclear charges and a lawyer he could not choose himself," he said. "We are mobilising worldwide for his immediate release, and in the meantime, his rights must be respected, his detention conditions must improve, and he must receive the medical assistance he needs."

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The protesters gathered to ask Belgian politicians to keep up pressure on Iran. "Belgium should put maximum pressure on the Iranian authorities to end the Belgian's arbitrary detention as soon as possible," Amnesty echoed. "Belgium should also examine how, in cooperation with other countries, it can put a stop to Iran's tactics of arbitrarily detaining people and using them as a means of political pressure. Taking hostages is an international crime."

Gloves, hats, pullovers, and scarves were also collected at Albertina Square, as a sign of solidarity with the imprisoned Belgian. "In talks with his family, he has said that he is terribly cold in his cell," said Olivier Van Steirtegem, spokesperson for the Support Committee to Olivier Vandecasteele.

"The collection of those warm clothes is a symbolic solidarity action to ask for more warmth for Olivier, and an improvement of his detention conditions. The clothes collected will be handed over to the Citizens' Platform for Refugee Support."

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