| 8 December 2023, Friday |

Three Europeans return home after release by Iran in prisoner swap

Three Europeans were released by Iran in a prisoner swap on Saturday, and Tehran claimed there was no need for Europeans to be jailed if they were not “exploited” by Western intelligence agencies.

The three men, two of whom have dual Austrian-Iranian nationality and one of whom is Danish, were released by Iran on Friday in exchange for Iranian diplomat Asadollah Assadi, as part of a trade in which Iran liberated Belgian humanitarian worker Olivier Vandecasteele last week, according to a Belgian government official.

Assadi was convicted in Belgium in 2021 in connection with a foiled bomb plot in France and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Iran said the charges against him were fabricated.

After a stop in Oman and medical tests, the three Europeans were flown to Melsbroek military airport in Belgium, which had helped secure their release.

They arrived around 2:45 a.m. (0045 GMT) and were greeted by Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib, Belgium’s Belga news agency reported.

Danish citizen Thomas Kjems flew on to Copenhagen, landing at around 11 a.m. (0900 GMT) on Saturday.

“It’s been up and down. I haven’t really believed that this was real, but it has happened – I’m in Denmark and logic is back,” he told reporters.

“There has been no physical torture or anything,” he said about his time spent in an Iranian prison. “I’ve been given my food and drink etcetera, but when your freedom is taken away from you, that’s what you think about,” he added.

Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg tweeted photos of the two Austrians arriving in Vienna.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian tweeted on Saturday that he had told Lahbib that he hoped the prisoners’ release would “open a new page” in Iran’s relations with Belgium and Europe.

“If some European citizens are not exploited by foreign security services, there is no reason to detain them,” Amirabdollahian said.

Many Western countries have advised their nationals not to travel to Iran, citing issues including the risk of arbitrary arrests.

  • Reuters