BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgian lawmakers on Tuesday debated a prisoner exchange deal with Tehran that an exiled Iranian group opposes and says it will release the mastermind of a rally bombing.
Justice Minister Vincent van Quikenbourne has called on Belgium’s lower house’s foreign relations committee to support an agreement that the intelligence services believe could avoid increased threats against Belgium’s interests.
“People’s lives are at risk,” the minister said, adding that one threat that was implemented was the detention of a Belgian man in Iran since February.
Many lawmakers spoke of the possibility of an exchange for the man’s release, identified by some Belgian media as a 41-year-old aid worker, and Swedish-Iranian academic Ahmedreza Jalali, who taught in Belgium and was punished. Death in Iran.
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Iran has demanded the release of Assadullah Assad, who was sentenced in 2021 to 20 years in prison in Belgium for plotting the 2018 bombings. This is the first trial of an Iranian official in Europe for suspected terrorism since the 1979 revolution.
Iran’s National Council of Resistance, which aimed to rally near Paris, called the deal “shameful” and said it had given Iran the green light to launch an attack on Belgium.
“This is an agreement with the world’s number one state sponsor or terrorist and it is designed to release only one convicted terrorist,” Farzin Hashemi, deputy chair of the group’s foreign affairs committee, told a news conference after the debate.
The Islamic Republic has denied all allegations of terrorism, calling the Paris attack allegations a “false flag” stunt by the NCRI, which considers it a terrorist group.
Van Quikenborn said the bill was not linked to a separate case.
Several lawmakers have expressed concern that it could encourage the occupation of Iran or others by the Belgians.
“Will this open the door to a kind of hostage diplomacy?” Greens member Wouter De Vriendt said.
The committee was scheduled to vote on the bill on Tuesday, but adjourned the session until Wednesday after nearly four hours of debate. On Thursday it may be presented before a full 150-member chamber.
(Reporting by Philip Blancinsop; Editing by Allison Williams)
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