Rallies in support of Olivier Vandecasteele will be held simultaneously on Sunday night in five Belgian cities, the support committee for the Belgian humanitarian worker detained without reason by the regime in Iran announced on Monday.
The rallies will be held simultaneously in Vandecasteele's hometown, Tournai, Namur, Brussels, Ghent and Leuven.
In the meantime, a petition launched by Amnesty International to demand the release of the detained humanitarian worker has already received over 134,000 signatures.
Sunday night's rallies are being organised in tandem with the international human rights organisation. The words "365 days too many" can be read on posters announcing the various events.
Vigils of music and light in each city
A vigil of music and lights will begin on Sunday at 6 p.m. at the Delta in Namur, Notre-Dame College in Tournai, the Mont des Arts in Brussels, Place Monseigneur Ladeuze in Leuven and Place Emile Braun in Ghent. A member of Olivier's family will be present at each site.
"More than a thousand persons are expected in Namur and Tournai," said Vandecasteele's brother-in-law, Joris Brabant.
Olivier Vandecasteele was arrested in Iran on 24 February 2022 and sentenced by an Iranian court to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes for allegedly spying. Over the months the health of the 42-year-old humanitarian worker has deteriorated significantly.
"He weighs less than 50kg for 1.82 metre, "Joris Brabant said. "He is kept in solitary confinement without seeing the light of day."
A pawn in Iran's 'hostage diplomacy'
The Belgian relief worker has become a pawn in the "hostage diplomacy" practised by Iran, which uses the detention of foreigners as diplomatic currency.
In this case, Tehran is using Vandecasteele's detention as a means of putting pressure on Belgium to release Asadollah Assadi, an Iranian agent sentenced in 2021 in Antwerp to 20 years in prison for an attempted attack in France in 2018 against the Iranian opposition CNRI and the People's Mujahedin Organisation.
Belgium's Constitutional Court will rule on 8 March on the transfer treaty that would allow Assadolah Assadi to be exchanged for Olivier Vandecasteele.
Confirmation of the date of the ruling was posted discreetly on the Constitutional Court's website on Friday and reported on Saturday by Le Soir.
All eyes on 8 March deadline
Wednesday 8 March is the deadline set by the suspensive ruling of 8 December last year, which gave the Court a period of three months to decide. If it does not meet this deadline, which cannot be extended, the suspension will automatically be lifted, and the law can apply.
If the court confirms the suspension of the transfer treaty by annulling it, the government will have to find another solution to carry out the exchange.