Belgian MPs have ratified a controversial treaty with Iran that could allow an Iranian convicted of terrorism in Belgium to be sent back to Tehran.
Of the 131 MPs present, 79 voted in favor while 41 rejected the treaty, and 11 abstained in the vote just after midnight, following a late debate on Wednesday.
Reviews to fear that the treaty, which would allow Iranians convicted in Belgium to serve their sentences in Iran and vice versa, will pave the way for the release of Assadollah Assadi, a terrorist convicted by Belgian courts and sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in a bomb attack targeting a gathering of opponents of the Iranian regime in France.
The treaty also allows either side to grant amnesty, and there is no doubt that Assadi, who worked as an Iranian diplomat, would soon be released.
Tehran, meanwhile, has been holding Belgian humanitarian Olivier Vandecasteele in prison since February as a means of pressure.
The treaty was approved by the parliament’s foreign affairs committee on July 6, leading to heated debate among MPs, with some members of the ruling coalition even criticizing the deal. A few of their lawmakers have expressed concern about why the treaty was rushed through parliament before the summer recess and said they were unable to consult enough people. external experts before the vote.
“We had to be able to publicly express our reservations and our deep concerns, and at the same time do our job as parliamentarians,” said Samuel Cogolati, a Green MP who is part of the government coalition, before the vote. “We have tried as much as possible to consolidate, to give guarantees for the rule of law, while ensuring the release of our Belgian compatriot in Iran.”
Approval by the entire parliament was almost achieved after the approval of the committee.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo last week responded to MPs who denounced the deal as “blackmail” and a form of ransom payment to Iran for Vandecasteele’s release.
“What are you telling his family, that we’re going to let him rot in his cell?” said De Croo. “Belgium does not abandon its citizens.”
Vandecasteele’s family urged Belgian authorities to take action to free him and welcomed the vote. “As a family, we are proud to see [that] some politicians are making the right decision to release an innocent person in horrible conditions in prison,” said Olivier Van Steirtegem, who represents the family.
“It’s never a fair trade with a terrorist, but it’s also not fair to keep an innocent person in jail,” he added.
Reacting to the vote, François De Smet, the leader of the opposition Défi party, said the treaty would set a precedent which “will have terrible repercussions on the reputation of our country and the security of our citizens”.
“Belgium is sending the message that its justice is for sale,” he said. tweeted.
Antoaneta Roussi contributed reporting.