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Iran Holds an Innocent Man Hostage as It Tries to Do a Dirty Deal With Belgium

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Kirsty Wigglesworth

When Iranian security forces detained the 39-year-old British-Iranian charity worker - Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, in April 2016, on charges of plotting to topple the theocratic government and spreading propaganda against the regime, it was quickly exposed as a shameless display of hostage-taking. The mullahs even told the young mother that she was being held as a bargaining-counter against a £400 million arms-deal debt that Britain had arranged prior to the overthrow of the Shah in 1979. She was finally released in March this year after the debt was paid, having suffered 6 years of incarceration in some of Iran’s foulest prisons.


The mullahs have ramped up their propensity for hostage-taking once again with the sentencing of Olivier Vandecasteele, a 41-year-old Belgian aid worker. The mullahs have sentenced Vandecasteele, who was arrested in February, to 28 years imprisonment on trumped up spying charges. The innocent EU citizen is being held hostage as Tehran attempts to force the release of an Iranian terrorist jailed in Belgium. While there should be an outpouring of sympathy for Vandecasteele and his family, there must be no question of any prisoner exchange. In a trade-off for the release of Vandecasteele, the mullahs are demanding the repatriation of Assadollah Assadi, one of their accredited diplomats previously based in the Iranian embassy in Vienna. In 2018, Assadi flew from Tehran to Vienna on a commercial airliner with a fully primed 500gm bomb in his diplomatic pouch. Assadi and three Iranian co-conspirators were sentenced to decades of imprisonment by a Belgian Court, for attempting to kill and maim potentially hundreds of people at an Iranian opposition rally near Paris, attended by many prominent Western political figures, in June 2018.

Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, subsequently signed a treaty with the Belgian government which would effectively allow Assadi and his three Iranian co-conspirators to be sent back to Iran, in exchange for the release of Vandecasteele. The treaty claims that the exchanged prisoners would then serve out the remainder of their sentences in their home nations. Of course, Assadi and his terrorist colleagues would be treated as heroes and rewarded by the mullahs. There would be no question of them serving any jail time. Last week, Belgium’s constitutional court suspended the controversial treaty pending a final ruling on its legality in three months.


It seems that Belgium’s judges have more sense than their political leaders. Rewarding the Iranian regime’s hostage-taking by freeing Assadi would simply encourage the mullahs to kidnap more innocent Europeans. It would also seriously undermine the entire system of European justice, where the decision of the courts is inviolate and should never be interfered with or overturned by politicians. Justice is blind and based on the evidence before the courts and not on the status or power of the accused. The Belgian government’s attempt to appease the gangster Iranian regime is a shocking indictment of their spineless political leadership, blatantly exposing EU citizens to further terrorist attacks. If the mullahs know that they can easily secure the release from jail of their terrorist agents simply by abducting innocent hostages, then they achieve impunity, violating justice and the rule of law.

Now that the nationwide uprising in Iran has entered its fourth month, with the regime’s security forces implementing a brutal shoot-to-kill strategy as they try to crush the street protests, it is surely incumbent on the West to support the Iranian people, rather than to kowtow to the tyrannical theocratic dictatorship. The fact that the mullahs’ regime uses its embassies as bomb factories and conduits for terrorist attacks and espionage worldwide, is surely proof enough that this is a pariah nation with whom we should have no diplomatic interaction. Indeed, we should expel Iran’s ambassadors, close their embassies and withdraw our own diplomatic staff from Tehran. Remaining silent while the mullahs savagely torture and execute young political prisoners who were arrested during the nationwide protests, is not acceptable. Over 700 Iranians have been killed in the protests so far and a further 30,000 arrested, many of whom now face the death penalty on the sham charge of “waging war against God”. Two young protesters have already been hanged, one of them publicly.


The weak-kneed politicians in Belgium who seek to free Iran’s terrorists should learn a lesson from Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama. When the Albanian intelligence service uncovered an Iranian plot to mount a terrorist operation against members of the main Iranian democratic opposition movement, the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), who reside in Albania, Edi Rama severed relations with Iran, closed the mullahs’ embassy and expelled their ambassador and his agents. The UN has also finally discovered its spine. In a session of the UN General Assembly on December 14, the Economic and Social Council decided, by a large majority, to expel the mullahs’ regime from the UN Commission of the Status of Women (CSW) with immediate effect. The resolution expressed concern about the killing of protesters, including women and girls, by the Iranian regime, and about the regime’s policies that “continuously undermine and increasingly suppress the human rights of women and girls including the right to freedom of expression and opinion, often with the use of excessive force, by administering policies flagrantly contrary to the human rights of women and girls and to the mandate of the Commission on the Status of Women.”

These are encouraging signs that Western nations are finally waking up to the tangible threat posed by the mullahs’ regime. Eighty-five million enraged Iranians are now clamoring for freedom, democracy, justice and an end to oppression and human rights abuse at the hands of the fascist theocratic regime. The chants on the street are for the overthrow of the mullahs. Helping the Iranian people and their brave MEK Resistance Units to topple this evil theocracy would restore peace, stability, human rights, women’s rights and an end to the nuclear threat. It would also secure the freedom of Mr. Vandecasteele and tens of thousands of other men and women unjustly imprisoned.


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