Dozens of Belgian and international human rights experts, alongside 21 former heads of EU countries, have sent letters to the Belgian Primer Minister Alexander De Croo calling on him not to return an Iranian prisoner.
In a letter to De Croo, 21 former European ministers and dignitaries signed a letter from the International Committee in Search of Justice (ISJ), urging him to make it clear that the controversial exchange treaty with the Iranian regime will not apply to terrorists, especially Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat currently serving a 20-year prison sentence in Belgium for attempting to bomb an international summit in Paris in 2018.
"Implementing the Belgian-Iranian treaty and returning Assadi would set a dangerous precedent and seriously weaken the rule of law," the letter read.
"It would have a colossal impact on Europe’s combat against terrorism and send the message that the Iranian regime can evade responsibility for major international crimes and mass terror in Europe. Belgium would bear a heavy responsibility in this regard."
The treaty is expected to help free the imprisoned Belgium development worker Olivier Vandecasteele and also Swedish-Iranian VUB teacher Ahmadreza Djalali.
Unlikely to serve sentence
Assadi was convicted by the Belgian Judiciary for his role in the attempted bombing of the summit organised by the “National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)” in France in 2018, and is now one of only 20 people on the EU’s terrorist blacklist. A court in Belgium handed Assadi the maximum sentence in 2021.
Now, as part of a controversial treaty between Belgium and Iran, those sentenced in both territories will be transferred to the other party's territory and allowing each country to "grant pardon, amnesty or commutation of the sentence in accordance with its Constitution or other laws.”
The decision by Belgium to convict Assadi has not been recognised by Iranian authorities, meaning it is improbable that he will serve the remainder of his 20-year sentence in Iran.
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"Sending Assadi back to Iran would make a mockery of the rule of law in Europe and foster further impunity for the Iranian government and its officials who are involved in terrorism and crimes against humanity," the letter read, adding that releasing him would only "embolden Tehran’s terrorist conduct in Europe."
Dozens of Belgian and international human rights and legal experts and the Iranian main opposition NCRI and the civil parties have also expressed concern about the possible inclusion of Assadi.
On Monday 19 September, the Brussels court will consider the controversial exchange treaty, which according to Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne aims to protect Belgian citizens. It previously received a positive opinion from the Belgian security services and was approved by the Belgian parliament.