British Council worker Aras Amiri ‘discovered her jail sentence on Iranian TV’

She was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in Iran on espionage charges in May

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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A London-based British Council employee who was jailed for 10 years in Iran earlier this year only found out about her sentencing by watching the news on Iranian television, according to a report.

Aras Amiri has written a letter to the head of the Iranian judiciary protesting her “unlawful” treatment, independent news site Iran Wire reported.

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

The 32-year-old Iranian national, who has permanent residency status in the United Kingdom, has not been allowed to leave Iran since.

Iran Wire said it had seen a letter sent by Ms Amiri to Ebrahim Raeesi, Chief Justice of the Iranian judicial system, in which she provides details about her arrest and imprisonment.

The student said she was arrested on the street and taken to a hotel in Tehran for questioning before being transferred to Evin Prison. Bail was set at 700 million rials (Dh61,066) but despite the money being posted in cash, Ms Amiri was not released.

Ms Amiri spent 30 days in solitary confinement where she was interrogated continuously by Iranian authorities about her job at the British Council.

Announcing her sentencing in May, the Iranian judiciary accused Ms Amiri of being “in charge of the Iran desk in the British Council and was cooperating with Britain’s intelligence agency”.

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

Ms Amiri did not travel to Iran for work as the cultural outreach programme does not do any work in the country.

Iran closed down the British Council’s offices in Tehran in 2009. The UK-registered charity has said it has no offices or representatives in the country.

Ms Amiri was offered the chance to go back to the UK by Iranian authorities if she spied on her employers during an interrogation, her cousin Mohsen Omrani previously told The National.

When she refused, things started to “escalate,” Mr Omrani said.

Ms Amiri said in the letter that she was later charged with “founding and directing a network for overthrowing the regime”, which carries a sentence of between two and 10 years in Iran under Article 498 of the Islamic Penal code.

She said she only learnt of her sentencing on espionage charges when she watched it on Iranian national television.

“I could not believe it that they were saying that I was connected to British intelligence services and was an agent of cultural infiltration,” she is quoted by Iran Wire as writing in the letter.

“How can working at an official institution of the British government be considered cooperation with British intelligence services when this government is not only not an enemy government but has diplomatic and economic relations with Iran at the highest political level?” she asks.

“On what legal basis, argument or logic have I been identified as the founder or the director of an institution that was active 50 years before I was born (and the Iran section was created 40 years before I was born) and my activities in this British state institution fall under Article 498 of the Islamic Penal code?”

Ms Amiri’s case bears many similarities to that of British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been imprisoned on alleged espionage charges since 2016.