Iran summons Belgium envoy over sentencing of diplomat

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran has summoned Belgium’s ambassador in response to the 20-year prison sentence given an Iranian diplomat convicted of planning a thwarted bomb attack against an Iranian opposition group, state-run IRNA news agency reported Tuesday.

Iran’s foreign ministry said the legal process, detention, trial and conviction of Assadollah Assadi, who worked as a diplomat in Iran’s embassy in Vienna, was in violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and are illegitimate.

During the meeting with the Belgian ambassador, Iran’s foreign ministry urged Belgium’s government to immediately release Assadi. IRNA’s report said Iran’s foreign ministry also delivered a written objection to Belgium’s ambassador.

Last week, a court in Antwerp sentenced Assadi, who had been identified as an undercover agent, to 20 years in prison after he was convicted of planning a thwarted bomb attack against exiled Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq in France.

Assadi contested the charges and refused to testify during his trial last year, invoking his diplomatic status. He did not attend Thursday’s hearing at the Antwerp courthouse in which he was sentenced. The court rejected Assadi’s claim of diplomatic immunity saying he was on vacation at the time of his arrest — and not in Austria, where he was accredited.

The case has infuriated Iran, whose foreign ministry claimed the legal process was influenced by a conspiracy designed by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq to destroy Iran-Europe relations.

In its ruling, the Belgian court made clear Iran was not on trial, but insisted the defendants in the case were members of a cell operating for Iran’s intelligence services gathering information about the opposition group to identify targets and set up an attack.

Assadi’s conviction comes at a critical time and has the potential to embarrass his country as U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration weighs whether to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. Iran also said last month it expects Washington to lift economic sanctions that former President Donald Trump imposed on the country after pulling America out of the atomic deal in 2018.

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