Iran sentences Belgian aid worker to prison, lashes

Iran sentences Belgian aid worker to prison, lashes

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — 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. .

Iran’s judiciary website said the Revolutionary Court sentenced 41-year-old Olivier Vandecasteele to 12.5 years in prison for espionage, 12.5 years for collaborating with hostile governments and 12.5 years for money laundering. He was also fined $1 million and sentenced to 2.5 years for currency smuggling.

Under Iranian law, Vandecasteele would be eligible for parole after 12.5 years. The judiciary’s website said the rulings could be appealed.

Iran has arrested a number of foreigners and dual nationals over the years, charging them with espionage or other state security offenses and convicting them after secret trials that rights groups say deny them 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 allegations against Vandecasteele. It is unclear whether they relate to the anti-government protests that have rocked Iran for months or a long shadow war with Israel and the US marked by covert attacks on Iran’s controversial nuclear program.

Nationwide protests began after the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested on suspicion of 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 foreign powers for the protests, without providing evidence.

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

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

“Iran has not provided any 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 circulating in the press.”

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

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 arrested since the demonstrations began, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that has been monitoring the unrest. Iranian authorities have not released official figures for 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 tried in Revolutionary Courts, which do not allow those on trial to choose their lawyers or see the evidence against them.

London-based Amnesty International has said such trials bear “no semblance of a meaningful judicial process”.

Norway and Denmark summoned Iranian ambassadors this week to protest the executions and Iran’s handling of the demonstrations.

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

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

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

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

The report also said that security forces identified 23 suspected members of these teams and arrested 13 of them in the country.

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