Protest Held in Brussels to Call for Release of Belgian Held in Iran

Protesters wear clothes reading 'Free Olivier' and holding placards reading 'The priority is the right of living for Olivier' (L) and 'Olivier is in danger, let's mobilize' (R) during a solidarity demonstration with Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele in Brussels on December 25, 2022. (Photo by François WALSCHAERTS / AFP)
Protesters wear clothes reading 'Free Olivier' and holding placards reading 'The priority is the right of living for Olivier' (L) and 'Olivier is in danger, let's mobilize' (R) during a solidarity demonstration with Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele in Brussels on December 25, 2022. (Photo by François WALSCHAERTS / AFP)
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Protest Held in Brussels to Call for Release of Belgian Held in Iran

Protesters wear clothes reading 'Free Olivier' and holding placards reading 'The priority is the right of living for Olivier' (L) and 'Olivier is in danger, let's mobilize' (R) during a solidarity demonstration with Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele in Brussels on December 25, 2022. (Photo by François WALSCHAERTS / AFP)
Protesters wear clothes reading 'Free Olivier' and holding placards reading 'The priority is the right of living for Olivier' (L) and 'Olivier is in danger, let's mobilize' (R) during a solidarity demonstration with Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele in Brussels on December 25, 2022. (Photo by François WALSCHAERTS / AFP)

Supporters of a Belgian aid worker being held in Iran staged a Christmas Day protest in Brussels to demand his immediate release, with a spokesman questioning why a prisoner swap treaty was stalled.

Around 50 people took part in the demonstration under constant rain in the center of the Belgian capital, brandishing pictures of the aid worker, Olivier Vandecasteele, AFP reported.

A spokesman for the campaign to free Vandecasteele, Olivier Van Steirtegem, said the gathering took place because "it's the first year that Olivier is marking Christmas as a hostage in Iran".

He said the situation was "unthinkable for his family," who did not even know where Vandecasteele was being detained.

Vandecasteele, 41, was seized in February and has since been held in conditions that Belgium's government has described as "inhumane".

Last week, Iran imposed a 28-year jail term on him, stirring an already bitter debate over a stymied prisoner exchange treaty.

The Belgian government subsequently urged all Belgians in Iran, including dual nationals, to leave the country over the risk that they could be arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned.

Belgium insists Vandecasteele is innocent and was being held as a hostage as Tehran attempts to force Brussels to release an Iranian agent convicted of terrorism.

Under a treaty Belgium and Iran signed earlier this year, Vandecasteele would have been eligible to be swapped for the Iranian Assadollah Assadi.

Assadi, an Iranian diplomat who was stationed in Austria, was arrested in 2018 after German, French and Belgian law enforcement foiled a plot to set off a bomb at a rally outside Paris by an Iranian exiled opposition group.

After three years in detention, he was sentenced last year in Belgium to 20 years in prison for terrorism.

But in early December, Belgium's constitutional court suspended the implementation of the prisoner swap treaty pending a final ruling on its legality within the next three months.

Van Steirtegem said the Belgian government believed the stalled treaty was "the only path" to getting Vandecasteele freed.

"The question is whether we can accept leaving a Belgian man to potentially die in Iranian jail. All that because we don't want to transfer a prisoner from here who has already served five years in prison."



Danish Parliament Rejects Proposal to Recognize Palestinian State

Students gather near banners at an encampment at the University of Copenhagen's City Campus, at the old Municipal Hospital amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 6, 2024. (Reuters)
Students gather near banners at an encampment at the University of Copenhagen's City Campus, at the old Municipal Hospital amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 6, 2024. (Reuters)
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Danish Parliament Rejects Proposal to Recognize Palestinian State

Students gather near banners at an encampment at the University of Copenhagen's City Campus, at the old Municipal Hospital amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 6, 2024. (Reuters)
Students gather near banners at an encampment at the University of Copenhagen's City Campus, at the old Municipal Hospital amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 6, 2024. (Reuters)

Denmark's parliament rejected a proposal to recognize a Palestinian state on Tuesday, backing the government's view that the necessary conditions were not in place, despite a decision by Spain, Ireland and Norway to endorse independence.

Israel, which has found itself increasingly isolated after more than seven months of conflict with the Palestinian Hamas movement, which rules Gaza, has reacted furiously to the European moves.

The Danish bill had been proposed by four left-wing parties.

Sascha Faxe, member of parliament for The Alternative, said recognizing a Palestinian state was the only way to achieve lasting peace in the Middle East.

"The vast majority of Danish politicians agree that there will be no lasting peace in the Middle East without a two-state solution," she said in parliament, adding that she saw recognition as a way to give rights to ordinary Palestinians.

Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen had previously said the Danish government could not recognize a Palestinian state because it did not have a single functioning authority or control over its own territory.

Rasmussen did not take part in Tuesday's debate but has said he hopes Denmark will one day be able to give its backing to a Palestinian state.  

Earlier, the University of Copenhagen said it would halt investment in companies that do business in the occupied West Bank amid student protests pressuring the campus to cut financial and institutional ties with Israel.

Hundreds of students began campus protests in early May to express their opposition to Israel's operations in Gaza that were triggered by deadly attacks by Hamas in Israel on Oct. 7. The students have demanded that the university cuts academic ties with Israel and divests from companies operating in occupied Palestinian territories.

The university will, as of May 29, divest its holdings worth a total of about 1 million Danish crowns ($145,810) in Airbnb, Booking.com and eDreams, it said in a post on social media platform X.

The university said it would work with fund managers to manage its investments and ensure they comply with a United Nations list of companies involved in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The University of Copenhagen has a yearly revenue of over 10 billion crowns, some of which is invested in bonds and equities.

Israel captured territories in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip after winning a 1967 war with neighboring Arab states.