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Iran says it will reject any verdict resulting from trial of diplomat in Belgium

Judge's gavel. (Staff Sgt. Nicholas Rau/U.S. Air Force)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Iran has said it will not recognize any verdict in a trial in Belgium against an Iranian diplomat who is charged with plotting to bomb an exiled opposition group’s rally two years ago.

The diplomat, Assadolah Assadi, and three other Iranians went on trial in Antwerp on November 27 accused of planning to bomb the rally in France in 2018.

“We have announced many times and from the beginning that this court is not qualified, and that the judicial process is not legitimate due to (Assadi’s) diplomatic immunity and fundamental issues,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh was quoted by the ISNA news agency as saying.

“He is innocent and it is clear he has been conspired against,” Khatibzadeh said on November 27, emphasizing that Iran “will not recognize” a verdict.

Assadi, formerly based in Vienna, faces 20 years in prison if convicted. His trial is the first by an EU country against an Iranian official for terrorism.

Belgian prosecutors accuse Assadi and the others of plotting an attack on a rally of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

The trial has the potential to embarrass Iran and strain ties with European countries, which have blamed Iranian intelligence for being behind the foiled bombing, a charge the Islamic republic has furiously denied.

Assadi, who was arrested while on holiday in Germany and handed over to Belgium, is refusing to appear in court and did not attend the first day of the trial. He has not commented on the charges.

His lawyer, Dimitri de Beco, told reporters that while he has “the fullest respect” for the judges, he considers himself immune from prosecution.

Iran has repeatedly dismissed the charges, saying the allegations by the NCRI, which Tehran considers a terrorist group, are false.

The NCRI is the political wing of the exiled Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an exiled opposition group that is seeking to overthrow the Islamic republic.

The 2018 rally’s keynote address was given by Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City who now serves as U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer.

The United States considered the MEK a terrorist group until 2012. Its designation was removed following a lobbying campaign and pledges to end its violent militancy. Giuliani is among those who lobbied on its behalf.

The attack on the rally was thwarted by a coordinated operation between French, German, and Belgian security services, authorities in the three countries have said.

French officials have said Assadi was in charge of intelligence in southern Europe and was acting on orders from Tehran.

Two of Assadi’s suspected accomplices were arrested in Belgium in possession of explosives and a detonator. Their lawyers said on November 27 that neither had any intention to kill.

Lawyers representing participants in the 2018 rally, who are a civil party to the Belgian prosecution, have argued that diplomatic immunity cannot be used as a cover to carry out a terrorist attack, which carries a maximum 20-year prison term.

European countries have blamed Iran for other suspected moves against dissidents, including two killings in the Netherlands in 2015 and 2017 and a foiled assassination in Denmark. Tehran has denied involvement.