Release and return of three Europeans detained in Iran

Three European nationals – a Dane and two Iranian-Austrians – detained in Iran arrived in Belgium on the night of Friday June 2 to Saturday June 3, after their release.

Transported in a medical plane which made a stopover in the early evening in Muscat in the Sultanate of Oman, they were welcomed shortly before 2:45 a.m. on Saturday at the military airport of Melsbroek, near Brussels, Belgium having negotiated their release. They were welcomed by Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib, accompanied by Danish and Austrian diplomats.

In the afternoon, it was the Belgian Prime Minister, Alexander De Croo, who announced the evacuation “via Oman to Belgium” of three Europeans “unjustly detained” in Iran. Two Iranian-Austrians arrested in January 2016 and January 2019, and a Dane who was arrested in November 2022 are concerned. “on the sidelines of rallies for women’s rights”according to the Belgian government.

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“A diplomatic marathon”

The head of Danish diplomacy, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, welcomed this release, praising in particular “huge effort” of Belgium, but gave no details of his nationality.

Unlike its Austrian counterpart. “I am relieved that we can finally bring Kamran Ghaderi and Massud Mossaheb home after years of difficult detention in Iran”, commented Alexander Schallenberg. The Austrian Foreign Minister clarified that MM. Ghaderi and Mossaheb, expected “eagerly” in their families, have spent respectively “2,709 and 1,586 days of detention in Iran”. “It was a diplomatic marathon that finally paid off”underlined Mr. Schallenberg.

Mr. Ghaderi is an Iranian-Austrian businessman who was sentenced to ten years in prison in 2016 for working with states hostile to Tehran. Mr. Mossaheb spent nearly four years in detention before being released in November 2022 on medical grounds. But until then he had been forbidden to leave Iran.

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Operation “Blackstone”

The Sultanate of Oman, unanimously thanked by Brussels, Copenhagen and Vienna, had already acted as a facilitator and transit country on May 26 when the Belgian humanitarian Olivier Vandecasteele was released.

The return of Mr. Vandecasteele, after 455 days of detention, and following a standoff with Brussels which put the Belgian executive to the test, was obtained in exchange for the release of Assadollah Assadi. This Iranian diplomat, then stationed in Vienna, was arrested on 1er July 2018 in Germany, suspected of having orchestrated a plan of attack which was to target the day before a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI, coalition of opponents) in France. He was then sentenced to twenty years in prison for terrorism in 2021 in Belgium.

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The NCRI sees in Mr. Assadi the embodiment of “state terrorism” practiced by Tehran, and castigated his release considering that it flouts the rule of law. Last Friday, Assadollah Assadi, whom Belgian justice considered an Iranian intelligence agent, was greeted on his descent from the plane in Tehran with gifts and a necklace of flowers by two senior government officials.

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Deciphering the return of other three European nationals, after that of Mr. Vandecasteele, senior Belgian officials presented him as “the second stage” of the operation negotiated with Iran to deliver Mr. Assadi. This operation was baptized “Blackstone” after an English jurist of the XVIIIe century author of the formula “Better ten guilty people are free than one innocent person who suffers”.

Between twenty and thirty Europeans still detained in Iran

Westerners imprisoned in Iran are generally portrayed by their supporters as innocent people used by Tehran as leverage and bargaining chip.

After the release last month of French Benjamin Brière and Franco-Irish Bernard Phelan, there are still four French detainees in Iran. And in total between twenty and thirty nationals of member countries of the European Union (EU), depending on the sources, are in the same situation. The Belgian authorities advanced Friday the figure of twenty-two. Vienna still deplores the presence in Iranian jails of a third Austrian detained for undetermined reasons.

Read also: Iran: Frenchmen Benjamin Brière and Bernard Phelan released and back in France

The World with AFP

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