Three Europeans released from detention by Iran arrived in Belgium early yesterday, the latest in a series of prisoner swaps.
One Dane and two Austrian-Iranian citizens landed shortly before 2:45am at Melsbroek Air Base just outside Brussels. They had flown from Muscat, the capital of Oman, which helped broker their release.
Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hadja Lahbib welcomed them at the airport, along with Danish and Austrian diplomats.
The trio’s release, as well as that of a Belgian aid worker a week earlier, were part of a prisoner swap in which Tehran got back an Iranian diplomat convicted and incarcerated in Belgium on terrorism charges.
Vienna reacted with relief at the release of its two citizens, identified as Kamran Ghaderi and Massud Mossaheb, who it said had been arrested “unjustly” by Iran in January 2016 and January 2019 respectively.
Thanking Belgium, Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Schallenberg said: “Our years of diplomatic efforts to secure their release have borne fruit... Today is a very emotional day for all of us.”
The Danish man, who was not immediately identified, had been arrested in Iran in November last year on the sidelines of a demonstration for women’s rights, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said.
Melsbroek is the same airport that Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele arrived at on May 26 upon being freed by Iran after 15 months in captivity.
His liberation was obtained in exchange for Belgium freeing Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, who had been imprisoned for a 2018 plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally outside Paris.
Iran had leveled charges of espionage at Vandecasteele, but his family, the Belgian government and rights groups said that was a fabricated case used to pressure Brussels for Assadi’s release.
Belgian government officials said the release of Vandecasteele, the Dane and the two Austrian-Iranians was part of “Operation Blackstone,” referring to 18th-century English jurist William Blackstone, who was known for saying: “It is better that 10 guilty escape than one innocent suffer.”
The exiled Iranian opposition group the National Council of Resistance in Iran, the target of the 2018 bomb plot, has criticized Assadi’s release, saying that it contravened a Belgian court order requiring them to be consulted first.
Critics of the exchange said that it would encourage Tehran to take more Europeans hostage as bargaining chips to seek the return of agents such as Assadi arrested for terror offenses in the West.
De Croo said that his government “continues to fight for the respect of human rights and the release of European citizens unjustly detained by Iran.”
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