Iran sentences Belgian aid worker to prison and 74 lashes for alleged espionage

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran’s theocratic regime.
(Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader)

Iran has sentenced a Belgian aid worker to a lengthy prison term and 74 lashes after convicting him of espionage charges in a closed-door trial, state media reported Tuesday.

The website of Iran’s judiciary said a Revolutionary Court sentenced 41-year-old Olivier Vandecasteele to 12½ years in prison for espionage, 12½ years for collaboration with hostile governments and 12½ years for money laundering. He was also fined $1 million and sentenced to 2½ years for currency smuggling.

Under Iranian law, Vandecasteele would be eligible for release after 12½ years. The judiciary website said the verdicts can be appealed.


Iran has detained a number of foreigners and dual nationals over the years, accusing them of espionage or other state security offenses and sentencing them after secretive trials in which rights groups say they are denied due process. Critics accuse Iran of using such prisoners as bargaining chips with the West, something Iranian officials deny.

Iran has not released any details about the charges against Vandecasteele. It is unclear if they are related to anti-government protests that have convulsed Iran for months or the long-running shadow war with Israel and the U.S., which has been marked by covert attacks on Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

The nationwide protests began after the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was detained for allegedly violating Iran’s strict Islamic dress code. Rallying under the slogan “Women, life, freedom,” the protesters say they are fed up with decades of social and political repression. Iran has blamed the protests on foreign powers, without providing evidence.

Iran says it executed two men convicted of allegedly killing a paramilitary volunteer, the latest executions aimed at halting the nationwide protests.

Jan. 7, 2023

Vandecasteele’s family said last month that he had been detained in an Iranian prison for months and had been on a hunger strike. They said he was deprived of access to a lawyer of his choice and is suffering from serious health problems.

Belgium has urged its nationals to leave Iran, warning that they face the risk of arbitrary arrest or unfair trial.


“Iran has provided no official information regarding the charges against Olivier Vandecasteele or his trial,” Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said in a statement. “We will summon the Iranian ambassador today, given the information that is circulating in the press.”

“Belgium continues to condemn this arbitrary detention and is doing everything possible to put an end to it and to improve the conditions of his detention,” she said.

Taraneh Alidoosti, who starred in the Oscar-winning film ‘The Salesman,’ was jailed after criticizing Iran’s crackdown on antigovernment protests.

Jan. 4, 2023

The protests, which have continued for nearly four months with no sign of ending, mark one of the biggest challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution that brought it to power.

At least 520 protesters have been killed and more than 19,300 people have been arrested since the demonstrations began, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that has been monitoring the unrest. Iranian authorities have not provided official figures on deaths or arrests.

Iran has executed four people after convicting them of charges linked to the protests, including attacks on security forces. They were also convicted in Revolutionary Courts, which do not allow those on trial to pick their own lawyers or see the evidence against them.

London-based Amnesty International has said such trials bear “no resemblance to a meaningful judicial proceeding.”

Iran has executed a second prisoner convicted over crimes that officials say he committed during the anti-government protests shaking the nation.

Dec. 12, 2022

This week, Norway and Denmark summoned the Iranian ambassadors to Oslo and Copenhagen, respectively, to protest the executions and Iran’s handling of the demonstrations.

“What is happening in Iran is completely unacceptable and must stop,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said. “We have strongly condemned the executions. ... We have called on Iran to end the use of the death penalty and to respect human rights.”

In Denmark, Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen called the executions “completely unacceptable” and said the European Union should impose additional sanctions on Iran.

Separately on Tuesday, the state-run IRNA news agency said Iran’s intelligence ministry arrested six teams of operatives linked to Mossad, Israel’s chief intelligence and secret-service agency.

Without providing evidence, the report said the spy teams planned to assassinate an unnamed high-ranking military official and had carried out several sabotage operations in the country’s big cities.

The report also said security forces identified 23 alleged members of these teams and had arrested 13 of them who were in the country.