13 July 2022, London: Belgium should not grant absolute impunity to those who commit terrorism and serious human rights violations on its soil. Subject to a vote on 14th of July in Belgian parliament, a bill based on a bilateral Treaty between Iran and Belgium will be passed, allowing nationals of each country who have been given confirmed prison sentences in the courts of the other to serve these sentences in their own countries.
If passed by the parliament, the bill gives Iranian state officials and agents a free pass to commit grave human rights violations and crimes against Iranian political dissidents in Belgium. If convicted in Belgian courts, Iranian nationals charged with crimes such as state-sponsored terrorism will be allowed to walk free once back in Iran, given that the Treaty empowers the receiving party to reduce sentences or grant pardon and amnesty.
Justice for Iran is particularly concerned about a former Iranian diplomat and his three accomplices currently imprisoned in Belgium for attempted terrorism, escaping punishment. If the bill is passed, they will be transferred back to Iran, granted amnesty, and released as soon as the bill is enforced.
After a foiled plot to bomb a rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) near Paris in June 2018, Asadollah Asadi, the third counsellor at Iran’s embassy in Vienna, was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment by the Antwerp court. French officials stated that Asadi was running an Iranian state intelligence network and acting on Tehran’s orders. Three other Iranians, Amir Sa’douni, Nasimeh Naami and Mehrdad Arefani, were convicted for their roles as accomplices, and given sentences of 17-18-years.
The Belgian government will be leaving its citizens vulnerable to terrorism if the bill passes. While a blatant breach of sovereignty and national security, the Treaty instrumentalises absolute impunity by granting the perpetrators of terrorism a Carte Blanche. It undermines Belgium’s commitment to providing victims of terrorism and serious human rights violations with the right to effective remedy enshrined in the European Human Rights Convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The European Court of Human Rights has maintained in multiple rulings that ‘effective remedy’ includes identification and punishment of the perpetrator when a right as fundamental as the right to life is involved. Any act of or attempt at terrorism is a violation of right to life, and may inflict great harm to civilians. Using terrorism as a means to silence political opposition, as with Iran’s state-sponsored terrorism, violates the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.
According to the Belgian Minister of Justice, the government’s push for an expedited adoption of the Treaty by parliament is linked to the a Belgian NGO worker, Olivier Vandecasteele, who has been detained in Iran since February 2022 under dubious charges.
The Iranian government has a long and ongoing history of arresting foreign and dual nationals under charges such as espionage, and using them as hostages for money, interfering with US and EU policies, and trading them with Iranian state officials and agents. Justice for Iran urges Belgium’s lawmakers not to embolden and enable the Islamic Republic of Iran’s policy of hostage-taking by passing the bill.
The Treaty between the Kingdom of Belgium and the Islamic Republic on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons was signed on 11th of March 2022 and was introduced by the Belgian federal government as a bill to parliament with a request to expedite the bill’s ratification. On 7th of July, the Belgian Parliament Committee of Foreign Affairs adopted the bill and sent it to the Plenary meeting scheduled for voting on 14th July.