An Iranian diplomat jailed for 20 years for a terrorist bomb plot is set to be freed after MPs in Belgium voted for a treaty approving prisoner swaps.
The parliament took the first steps towards the ratification of the prisoner exchange treaty on Wednesday (6th July).
Iran and Belgium had initially signed it off in March to the fury of other western states.
The Foreign Relations Committee of Belgium’s lower house of parliament discussed the agreement for two days before finally approving it on 6th July.
The decision means that convicted terrorist Assadollah Assadi, 51 – currently in jail in Belgium – could soon be flying home to Iran.
Assadi – once a senior diplomat in Iran’s Austrian embassy – was found guilty of plotting a terror bomb attack targeting the hardline Islamic state’s exiled opposition.
A court heard the plan was to detonate a device at a gathering of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK) near Paris, France, on 30th June 2018.
Assadi was later arrested while on holiday in Germany, where he did not have diplomatic immunity and was later extradited to Belgium.
A court in Antwerp found Assadi guilty of “attempted murder and involvement in terrorism” and sentenced the ex-diplomat to 20 years in prison in early 2021.
Now the controversial new extradition treaty bill will allow Iranians convicted of terrorism in Belgium to be sent back to their homeland.
Despite outrage at the decision, Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne stood behind the treaty and argued there are “human lives at risk.”
The agreement would also allow negotiations for future political deals on European citizens detained in Iran, such as Iranian-Swedish disaster medicine doctor Ahmad Reza Djalali, aged 50, who was sentenced to death for espionage and collaboration with Israel in 2017.
The Islamic Republic also holds French traveller and blogger Benjamin Briere, aged 37, who was imprisoned for eight years and eight months based on spying charges, as he was caught flying a drone near the border of Iran with Turkmenistan in May 2020.
However, several lawmakers have raised their concern that the proposed treaty might pave the way to “hostage diplomacy” and put other Belgian natives at risk of detention.
Senior United States senator from New Jersey, Bob Menendez, criticized the treaty and warned Belgium not to free Assadi.
London-based international non-governmental human rights organisation Amnesty International called on Belgium to ensure that the treaty is fully consistent with the country’s obligations under international law.
They said: “In particular, the bill should include adequate judicial safeguards to prevent the treaty being used to grant impunity for state officials and agents responsible for serious human rights violations and crimes under international law.”
However, the new law still needs to be approved by the full 150-member lower house of the Belgian parliament.