Foreign Affairs Minister criticised for inaction on Vandecasteele case

Foreign Affairs Minister criticised for inaction on Vandecasteele case
Belgium's Foreign Affairs Minister, Hadja Lahbib (MR). Credit: Nicolas Maeterlinck/Belga.

On Friday, the Flemish liberal Open VLD party called on Hadja Lahbib (MR), Belgium's Foreign Affairs Minister, to travel to Iran and press further for the release of Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele.

According to Iranian reports, Vandecasteele has been sentenced to 40 years in prison on alleged espionage charges following a sham trial for his work with international NGOs in the country.

As a result, Lahbib had told the Chamber of Representatives on Thursday that her ministry was doing everything in its power to improve the conditions of his detention and secure his release. 

However, this was not enough to satisfy Open VLD who asked that the government take a stronger stance towards the Iranian regime by personally "going and defending the interests of our compatriot himself and ascertain his condition."

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This would not be the first time that a Foreign Affairs Minister would make such a journey, with then-Foreign Minister Louis Michel travelling to Iran and securing the release of two Belgians in 2004.

In response, Lahbib told the RTBF that "this is not a matter that will be settled in the public arena." In her view, "we have to be very discreet and extremely careful." Nonetheless, she did reveal that "we are considering all possibilities, and when I say all possibilities, I mean all possibilities."

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