Aras Amiri: Iran upholds 10-year sentence for woman accused of spying

The Iranian student, who works for the British Council, was arrested in March 2018 while visiting her ill grandmother in Tehran

Iranian Aras Amiri, who has permanent residency in the UK, faces 10 years in jail on spying charges after her appeal was dismissed. Family photo
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British Council employee Aras Amiri faces 10 years in jail for spying charges in Iran after losing her final appeal.

Ms Amiri, who is also an aesthetics and art theory student at Kingston University, was arrested in March 2018 while visiting her ill grandmother in Tehran.

The Iranian national, who has permanent residency status in the United Kingdom, has not been allowed to leave Iran since.

In May, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being accused of spying for the British Council, where she worked promoting Iranian culture in Britain. The Iranian judiciary said Ms Amiri was “in charge of the Iran desk in the British Council and was co-operating with Britain’s intelligence agency”.

She appealed the sentence by writing a letter to Ebrahim Raeesi, Chief Justice of the Iranian judicial system. Iran Wire previously said it had seen the letter, in which she provided details about her arrest and imprisonment.

Ms Amiri said she was arrested on the street and taken to a hotel in Tehran for questioning before being transferred to the notorious Evin prison, where British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is also serving a sentence for espionage.

Bail was set at 700 million Iranian rials (Dh61,066), but despite the money being posted in cash, Ms Amiri was not released.

She spent 30 days in solitary confinement and was interrogated continuously by Iranian authorities about her job at the British Council, and that she only learnt of her sentencing on espionage charges when she watched it on Iranian national television.

This weekend, however, the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the conviction and prison term.

Ms Amiri's cousins told The National in June that Iran had pressured her to become a spy for the regime in exchange for her freedom.

A UK Foreign Office representative said in May that they were “very concerned by reports that an Iranian British Council employee has been sentenced to jail on charges of espionage”.

The British Council refutes the accusation made against Ms Amiri, who worked as an artistic officer to promote “greater appreciation of Iranian culture in the UK”.

Ms Amiri has a fiancé living in Britain who has been unable to get a visa to visit her in Iran since her arrest.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the husband of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe castigated British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for failing to meet her family as her prison conditions worsen.

The rules in Evin prison have recently become stricter, meaning she is no longer allowed to call her husband in the UK and she has been told she can only see her daughter Gabriella once a month. She was previously able to see her every few days.

Since becoming UK prime minister last month, Mr Johnson has come under renewed pressure to engage with Iran to negotiate the release of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe. During his campaign to enter Downing Street, Mr Johnson said he felt “a deep sense of anguish” over Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case.

While serving as Foreign Secretary between 2016 and 2018, Mr Johnson told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been jailed for “simply teaching people journalism”.

But this was inconsistent with her claims. The dual national said she had made the visit to allow her daughter to meet her Iranian grandparents.

Since then, Mr Johnson has faced backlash for potentially reducing the likelihood of her release.