Olivier Vandecasteele's niece locks herself in a cage for 24 hours in Tournai

Olivier Vandecasteele's niece locks herself in a cage for 24 hours in Tournai
Manon Vandecasteele sits blindfolded in a cell on the Grand Place de Tournai, a protest action mimicking the situation of her uncle. Credit: Belga / Justin Namur

In a move to denounce the arbitrary incarceration of her uncle Olivier Vandecasteele for a year in Iran, Manon Vandecasteele locked herself in a cage on Saturday evening in Tournai’s Grand Place. The 19-year-old is protesting the slow progress to liberate her uncle.

Manon Vandecasteele locked herself up at the stroke of 18:00 in front of a hundred people in a 2m2 steel cage set up on the Grand Place. Dressed in a white plastic suit, the 19-year-old woman knelt on the ground and placed a black blindfold over her eyes. After a silence, the audience applauded loudly.

“She will just have water, no food,” said her mother, Nathalie Vandecasteele. “She will also have access to the toilet in the caravan behind the cage. If it rains too much, we will place a tarpaulin above the cage”, says her father, Joris Brabant. In the course of the evening, a projection of videos and songs is scheduled. The cage is a replica of the cell in which Olivier Vandecasteele is being held.

Tweet translation: Manon Brabant, niece of Olivier Vandecasteele, the Belgian aid worker currently detained in Iran, will confine herself for 24 hours to raise awareness about the dire conditions that her uncle still faces.

The action denounces the slowness of the procedures to free Olivier Vandecasteele. In the cage, Manon will try to channel the pain and anxiety that have been growing since 26 February 2022 when she learned that the Iranian authorities had arrested the man who is also her godfather.

He has been detained for 422 days. Manon hopes to sensitise the authorities who are working for the release of the humanitarian worker and to amplify the popular mobilisation.

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To resolve the situation, Belgium and Iran had agreed to a prisoner swap treaty, which would see Vandecaastle released in exchange for Iranian national Assadollah Assadi, who was imprisoned in Belgium for his role in a foiled bombing plot.

Belgium's Constitutional Court had initially rejected the swap over fears that Assadi would escape punishment if he were sent back to Iran.

For 24 hours, citizens are invited to write a letter on the spot or to deposit it in a ballot box addressed to the Belgian politicians dealing with the case. The activist hopes to collect as many messages as possible, as Olivier’s physical and psychological health is so alarming.

Letters can be sent by email (lettreaugouvernementbelge@gmail.com) until Wednesday 26 April. Manon’s action ends on Sunday at 18:00.

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