DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Oman said Friday a prisoner swap between Belgium and Iran was underway, with Brussels saying an aid worker held by Tehran was on his way home.
The announcement by Oman’s Foreign Ministry did not identify the prisoners being swapped. However, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said in a statement that the aid worker, Olivier Vandecasteele, had been freed.
Iran has been wanting Belgium to return a diplomat convicted of planning a bombing in France. Iranian state media repeated Oman’s announcement, without offering further details.
“Those released were transferred from Tehran and Brussels to Muscat today, Friday, in preparation for their return to their countries,” the Foreign Ministry said. “The sultanate of Oman appreciated the high positive spirit that prevailed in the talks in Muscat between the Iranian and Belgian sides, and their keenness to settle this humanitarian issue.”
De Croo said Vandecasteele was transferred to Oman on Thursday night. He was received by a team of Belgian diplomats and military officials, then was assessed by doctors.
“Olivier spent 455 days in prison in Tehran. In unbearable conditions. Innocent,” De Croo wrote. “Olivier Vandecasteele’s return to Belgium is a relief. A relief for his family, friends and colleagues.”
Oman has long served as an interlocutor for the West with Iran.
In January, Iran sentenced Vandecasteele to a lengthy prison term and 74 lashes after convicting him of espionage in a closed-door trial. He also was fined $1 million.
In 2021, Belgium convicted an Iranian diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, of masterminding a thwarted bomb attack against an exiled Iranian opposition group in France and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Iran has detained a number of foreigners and dual nationals over the years, accusing them of espionage or other state security offenses and sentencing them following secretive trials in which rights groups say they have been denied due process.
Critics have repeatedly accused Iran of using such prisoners as bargaining chips with the West.
Iran, facing Western sanctions over its rapidly advancing nuclear program, has faced protests in recent months and economic strain. Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq was already scheduled to visit Tehran this weekend before the announced prisoner swap.
Associated Press writer Samuel Petrequin in Brussels contributed to this report.
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