Belgian aid worker detained in Iran starts hunger strike against his imprisonment

File – A police officer in Tehran, Iran. – ROUZBEH FOULADI / ZUMA PRESS / CONTACTOPHOTO

A Belgian aid worker detained in Iran in February has begun a hunger strike to protest against the «inhumane treatment» he is being subjected to in custody, his family announced in a statement.

The family said Belgian consular services gained access to the man, Olivier Vandecasteele, on Monday after nearly seven weeks without hearing from him, before adding that he has been «in total isolation» in a «windowless cell» for 278 days.

He denounced these conditions of detention as tantamount to torture and added that Vandecasteele has suffered «significant weight loss», has lost several fingernails and «has worrying dental and stomach problems».

For this reason, the man, who claims that he has even appeared before a court without legal representation or the presence of Belgian diplomats, began a partial hunger strike fourteen days ago, consuming only some bread and water in the morning, according to the Belgian newspaper ‘De Standaard’.

Vandecasteele’s family has called on the Iranian authorities to «show restraint and balance in the treatment of Olivier», while asking Brussels to work for his release, after Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi ratified a prisoner exchange treaty with Belgium two weeks ago.

The Belgian government revealed in July that Vandecasteele was arrested in February and charged with espionage. «This person is suspected of espionage, but there is not the slightest indication that this is based on fact,» said Justice Minister Vincent van Quickenborne.

Given this situation, Brussels is working to secure the release, something that cannot take place unless there is a treaty between Belgium and Iran. The prisoner swap would involve the Iranian diplomat, Asadollah Asadi, sentenced to 20 years by an Antwerp court in 2021 for attempted murder and participating in terrorist activities.