Belgium and Iran exchanged prisoners on Friday in a controversial move that saw an Iranian diplomat convicted of attempting to bomb exiles in France returning to Tehran bedecked in flowers while a visibly gaunt aid worker headed back to Brussels.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said in a statement that the aid worker, Olivier Vandecasteele, had been freed and said that for him, “the choice was always clear: Olivier’s life was always the most important.”
He said Vandecasteele had been unjustly held in Iran for 455 days and added that “in Belgium, we abandon no one. Not least someone who is innocent,” whatever the legal and diplomatic consequences.
Iranian state television later showed the diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, being welcomed at the airport by Iran’s judiciary chief and the secretary of human rights council Kazem Gharibabadi. Assadi had a floral wreath placed around his neck and held a bouquet of flowers — a hero’s welcome in Iran.
Despite the contentious optics, Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne said he would do it again, anytime.
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