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Nathalie Vandecasteele speaks to journalists during a press conference in Brussels, on her brother, aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele, who launched a hunger strike over the "inhuman" treatment by his captors, as he is detained in Iran since February. Image Credit: AFP

AMSTERDAM: Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele has been sentenced to 28 years in prison in Iran, a source with knowledge of the situation said on Wednesday.

The source confirmed a report by Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad that Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and other members of his cabinet had informed Vandecasteele’s family about the sentence on Tuesday.

Justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne is expected to answer questions about the situation in Belgian parliament later on Wednesday.

41-year old Vandecasteele has been detained by Iran for almost a year, but the charges against have remained unclear.

Belgium has repeatedly said there are no grounds for his detention.

Iranian authorities have yet to comment on the matter.

“It’s a disgrace and a tragedy for Olivier and his family,” family spokesman Olivier Van Steirtegem told Het Nieuwsblad.

“He is innocent and the victim of a larger, shady international game.” Last week, the Belgian constitutional court suspended an agreement between Iran and Belgium that would have made it possible to swap prisoners between the two countries.

That deal was seen by his family as the only hope for Vandecasteele, who according to Belgian media might have been swapped for Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian who last year was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in Belgium for trying to stage a bomb attack in Paris.

Stay of execution for Iran protester on death row: lawyer

Meanwhile, a young Iranian who had been sentenced to death for his actions during protests over the death of Mahsa Amini has been given a stay of execution, his lawyer said Wednesday.

Mahan Sadrat was one of nearly a dozen Iranians sentenced to death after being convicted of capital offences during the nationwide protests that erupted in mid-September.

“My client, Mahan, was saved from execution,” lawyer Abbas Mousavi announced in an Instagram post.

Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency quoted a statement from the supreme court media office as saying the death sentence against Sadrat had been “suspended”.

Sadrat, who is in his early 20s, had been found guilty of “moharebeh” - or “enmity against God” - an Islamic sharia law offence that carries the death penalty in Iran.

His conviction was based on allegations he had drawn a knife, causing fear and insecurity, Iran’s official IRNA news agency said.

At his court hearing on November 3, Sadrat pleaded not guilty to the knife charge, but admitted to setting a motorbike on fire, according to court documents cited by IRNA.

Iran has been gripped by demonstrations since the September 16 death in custody of Amini, a young Iranian Kurd who had been arrested for allegedly violating the country’s strict dress code for women.

Authorities have since made thousands of arrests in a crackdown on what they regard as “riots”.

Iran’s judiciary has said it has handed down 11 death sentences in connection with the protests.

In the past week, it has hanged Mohsen Shekari and Majidreza Rahnavard, both 23, the latter in public rather than in prison as has been usual in Iran in recent years.

Campaigners say a dozen other defendants face charges that could see them also receive the death penalty.