BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgian lawmakers on Wednesday gave preliminary clearance to a prisoner exchange deal with Iran that could release an Iranian diplomat convicted of plotting to bomb a rally of exiled opposition groups.
Belgium’s lower house’s foreign relations committee debated the agreement for more than six hours in two days before final approval.
The measure still needs to be tabled in front of the full 150-member lower house of parliament, probably within the next two weeks, but the chamber usually follows the votes of its committees, as they have similar party composition.
The prisoner exchange could secure the release of a Belgian aid worker who was detained in Iran in February and help Swedish-Iranian educator Ahmedreza Jalali, who taught in Belgium and was sentenced to death in Iran.
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.
It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post.
Several lawmakers have expressed concern that the proposed deal could lead to “hostage diplomacy” and put other Belgians at risk of detention.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), whose bombing planned a 2018 rally near Paris, called the deal “shameful” and said Assad should remain in prison.
“If he had succeeded, hundreds of people would have been killed,” said Farzin Hashemi, deputy chair of the NCRI’s foreign affairs committee, during a protest by about 100 NCRI members near the Belgian parliament.
“The experience of the last four decades has shown that relinquishing a terrorist regime will only encourage it and endanger the lives of more innocent people,” he said.
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.
(Reporting by Philip Blancinsop; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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