DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran has sentenced a Belgian aid worker to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes after convicting him of espionage charges in a closed-door trial, state media reported Tuesday.
The website of Iran’s judiciary said a Revolutionary Court sentenced 41-year-old Olivier Vandecasteele to 12.5 years in prison for espionage, 12.5 years for collaboration with hostile governments and 12.5 years for money laundering. He was also fined $1 million and sentenced to 2.5 years for currency smuggling.
It’s unclear if the charges are related to anti-government protests that have convulsed Iran for the last four months, which Iranian authorities have blamed on foreign powers, without providing evidence. The protests began after the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was detained for allegedly violating Iran’s strict Islamic dress code.
Iran has detained a number of foreigners and dual nationals over the years, often sentencing them after secretive trials in which rights groups say they are denied due process. Critics accuse Iran of using such prisoners as bargaining chips with the West, something Iranian officials deny.
Under Iranian law, Vandecasteele would would be eligible for release after 12.5 years. The judiciary website said the verdicts can be appealed.
Vandecasteele’s family said last month that he has been detained in an Iranian prison for months and has been on hunger strike. They said he was deprived of access to a lawyer of his choice and is suffering from serious health problems.
Belgium has urged its nationals to leave Iran, warning that they face the risk of arbitrary arrest or unfair trial.
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