Brussels (Reuters) – Three more Europeans have been released by Iran in return for Iranian diplomat Asadollah Assadi as part of a prisoner swap in which Iran released Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele last week, a spokesperson for the Belgian government said.
A Danish national and two people with dual Austrian-Iranian nationality are involved, the spokesperson said.
Assadi was convicted in Belgium in 2021 in connection to a foiled bomb plot in France and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Iran said the charges against him were fabricated.
In a statement, the Belgian government said that the Danish person was arrested in Iran in November 2022 in connection with women’s rights demonstrations.
The two dual nationals were “wrongfully arrested in … January 2016 and January 2019”, the government said.
Austria’s foreign ministry said in a statement that its citizens Massud Mosaheb and Kamran Ghaderi had been released after 1,586 days and 2,709 respectively.
Mosaheb is the co-chairman of the Iranian-Austrian Friendship Society and had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage, while Ghaderi is a businessman who was also sentenced to 10 years for espionage.
Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen declined to give more information about the Danish citizen but said in a statement that he is “both happy and relieved that a Danish citizen is now on the way home to their family after having been jailed in Iran”.
Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s top human rights official, said the three men were released on humanitarian grounds, Iranian state media reported.
Belgian’s prime minister Alexander De Croo has thanked Oman for mediating the swap.
The Gulf Arab country has good relations with both Iran and Western countries and has acted before as a mediator.
After a stop in Oman and medical tests, the three will be flown to Belgium’s military airport in Melsbroek. They are expected to arrive late Friday night or early on Saturday morning.
Belgian government officials said that officially there are still 22 Europeans in Iranian prisons, but that no more Europeans will be exchanged for Assadi.
They also said that Belgium is continuing to work for the release of Ahmadreza Djalali, a Swedish-Iranian national who guest-lectured at the university of Brussels and who was arrested in 2016 while on an academic visit to Iran.
Iran has arrested dozens of foreigners and dual nationals in recent years, mostly on espionage and security-related accusations. Rights groups have criticised the arrests as a tactic to win concessions from abroad by inventing charges, an accusation Tehran denies.