Iran's detention of Belgian aid worker a 'flagrant violation', UN experts say

UN rights experts are 'gravely concerned' over the mental and physical health of Olivier Vandecasteele

An image of Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele, who was arrested in Iran last year, hangs in Belgium. AFP
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UN human rights experts on Tuesday condemned Iran’s “arbitrary detention” and imprisonment of Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele on espionage charges as a “flagrant violation” of international law.

Mr Vandecasteele was sentenced to 40 years in jail and 74 lashes last week.

“We believe Mr Vandecasteele has been arbitrarily deprived of his liberty and is a victim of enforced disappearance for periods of detention,” the experts said in a statement.

“His right to a fair trial before an independent and impartial tribunal has been violated. These are flagrant violations of Iran’s obligations under international law.”

They pointed out that the Belgian citizen has been denied access to a lawyer and has had only limited access to consular services. He has also not been permitted to communicate regularly with his family.

The group of experts said the 41-year-old humanitarian worker had suffered ill treatment in detention.

In November, 10 months after his arrest in February 2021, Mr Vandecasteele launched a two-week hunger strike.

The experts said they are “gravely concerned” over his mental and physical health.

Protesters during a solidarity demonstration with Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele in Brussels. AFP

According to reports they have received, the Belgian aid worker has lost 15 kilograms and is suffering from serious health problems.

They called on Iranian authorities to release him and “guarantee his physical and psychological well-being”.

As of October 2022, at least 21 foreign and dual citizens have been detained, primarily on espionage charges.

In November, Iran’s judiciary indicated that 40 foreigners had been arrested for their involvement in nationwide protests that are now in their fourth month.

The expert team does not represent the UN but is mandated to report their findings to the global body.

Updated: January 17, 2023, 6:09 PM