By Arab News
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh *
The Iranian regime has a long history of using foreign hostages as political pawns and leverage against other governments in order to extract political and economic concessions. Lately, the theocratic establishment has been trying to carry out a comprehensive swap of prisoners with the West.
Unfortunately, the Belgian government has proposed legislation that will pave the way to the transfer of convicted terrorists back to Iran. This move is very dangerous, as it will embolden and empower the Iranian regime to take more hostages. The foreign relations committee of Belgium’s lower house approved the bill last week, with parliament expected to vote on it in the coming days.
The flawed proposal has created a firestorm on both sides of the Atlantic. US lawmakers, their European counterparts, former senior officials and human rights organizations have all slammed it. More must be done to thwart this kind of move.
The so-called treaty between the Belgian government and the Iranian regime is most likely designed to secure the release of Iranian diplomat-terrorist Assadollah Assadi. Assadi was arrested in 2018 for plotting to bomb a huge rally outside Paris that was organized by Iranian opposition group the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Assadi was last year convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison by a Belgian court for masterminding the terror plot, which if successful would have been perhaps the worst terrorist incident in Europe’s modern history. Hundreds of parliamentarians and international dignitaries had joined more than 100,000 Iranians at the oppositional group’s rally. The leading opposition figure, Maryam Rajavi, has vowed to continue to campaign against Belgium’s proposed law, including exploring taking the case to the country’s Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights.
While serving as a diplomat of the Iranian regime in Vienna, Assadi was found to have taken a powerful explosive on a commercial plane from Tehran and personally delivered it to two regime agents, who were tasked with detonating it at the rally. The two associates and another agent are now serving up to 18 years in prison in Belgium.
However, the proposed treaty will make it easier for the Belgian authorities to send these convicted terrorists back to Iran, which will help them escape accountability, the rule of law and justice.
The passing of such legislation would also open the door for the Iranian regime to conduct more terrorist acts on European soil with complete impunity. And Tehran would be more emboldened to take European citizens hostage and demand concessions from their governments.
It is nothing less than astonishing that Belgium has prepared a prisoner swap treaty with the world’s No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism, whose modus operandi is mass murder and international blackmail.
In addition to violating the basic human rights of the Iranian people on a daily basis, the theocratic regime continues to trample international laws while unleashing a terror machinery in the Middle East whose deadly repercussions have reached the heart of Europe.
The Iranian regime went so far as to task an accredited diplomat with conducting a massive terror operation in France in 2018. The notion that Brussels is likely considering sending Assadi and the three other terrorists back to Iran is mind-boggling and shameful. Belgian court documents clearly show that the Paris terror plot was not a one-man operation. The order came from the highest authorities in Tehran, which were fully aware of the wide-ranging risks.
The regime’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security was mandated to carry out the operation, which is why the EU sanctioned it and a number of its officials.
The disgraceful back-door deal with the regime is doubly dangerous because it encourages and further emboldens Tehran to send deadly operatives and assassins on to Western soil to target citizens and opponents. If a treaty like this one becomes law, such terrorists would enjoy complete impunity, even when arrested or convicted, because they would ultimately be sent back to Tehran without facing justice for their heinous crimes.
If this is not a travesty for Europe’s justice system, it is hard to imagine what is. It also flies in the face of the European security and intelligence services that worked diligently to foil the Paris bombing.
Appeasing bullies and terrorists will only breed more blackmail, death and terrorism. Nothing positive can result from it. On the contrary, the Iranian regime should be made to pay for its crimes by upholding Europe’s revered legal norms and humanitarian ethics. Otherwise, rogue and authoritarian regimes will erode these values from within.
Victims of the Iranian regime’s terrorism in cities across Europe deserve better. Belgian democracy and justice deserve better. Everyone whose conscience does not allow terrorists and mass murderers to get away with their crimes must ensure that this proposed treaty with the Iranian regime is censured and rejected.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist.