Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele has been released from his year-long unjust imprisonment in Iran after being subjected to enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment.
Olivier Vandecasteele was arrested by the Revolutionary Guard in February 2022 and taken to the notorious Evin prison. During this time, he was held in solitary confinement, tortured and denied healthcare by Iranian authorities.
On 10 January 2023, Iranian state media announced that he was sentenced to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes. His trial lasted only 30 minutes.
How did Amnesty respond?
After he was imprisoned and faced with unjust charges, Amnesty called on Iranian authorities to release Olivier Vandecasteele.
Over 27,000 Amnesty supporters in Australia took action and challenged injustice. Thousands of people emailed Iran’s Head of Judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, to reveal Olivier’s whereabouts and release him from unjust imprisonment.
Amnesty also advocated for an impartial investigation into those suspected of abetting unlawful acts and torture against Olivier.
Iranian authority’s use of hostage-taking and the risk of prisoner swaps
The release of Olivier Vandecasteele is more than welcome, but it consisted of a prisoner swap.
The circumstances of his release confirm concerns that the Iranian authorities held Vandecasteele hostage to compel Belgian authorities to swap him for Assadollah Asadi, a former Iranian official imprisoned in Belgium.
It is deeply disturbing that Vandecasteele was only freed through a deal between Belgium and Iran, which enabled the premature release of Asadi.
The consequences of the impunity granted to Iranian authorities has been devastating, leading to a well-documented pattern over recent years of foreign and dual nationals being arbitrarily arrested and detained, unjustly imprisoned, tortured and threatened with execution.
The prisoner swap risks emboldening the Iranian authorities to continue to commit hostage-taking and other crimes under international law. To mitigate these risks, the Belgian authorities must hold Iran to account for hostage-taking.
Amnesty International is a global movement of 10 million people standing up for justice, freedom and equality. Together, our voices challenge injustice and are powerful enough to change the world. Find out more about what we do, our impact and our current campaign cases.