British Council worker temporarily freed from Iranian jail

Aras Amiri was released in the early stages of her 10-year sentence amid coronavirus fears

Aras Amiri. Family photo

An Iranian working for Britain’s cultural outreach agency has been temporarily released from jail in Tehran, where she was serving a 10-year sentence after being accused of espionage, the UK government said.

Supporters of the 33-year-old posted her picture on social media after she left Evin prison in the Iranian capital. Thousands of prisoners have been released by the government as it tries to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Ms Amiri – who is based in the UK where she is employed by the British Council as an arts officer – was detained in 2018 during a visit to see her grandmother in Iran.

"We are relieved that British Council employee Aras Amiri has been temporarily released in Iran," a UK Foreign Office spokesperson said.

Ms Amiri's fiancé, James Tyson, said she was being treated as a political pawn in a broader diplomatic dispute between Tehran and London.

Mr Tyson wrote in The Guardian last year that she had been "caught in the middle of two global powers who refuse, or don't know how, to talk to each other".

The release of Ms Amiri, an Iranian citizen, appeared to have caught British officials by surprise. Sherry Izadi, whose husband Anoosheh Ashoori, a British dual-national, is imprisoned in Evin, said the UK’s Foreign Office appeared unaware of the development during a conference call that included the UK’s ambassador to Iran, Robert Macaire.

Tehran shut down the Iran office of the British Council a decade ago. The Iranian government claimed that the British Council was involved in plots against it and has warned that Iranians working with the agency would be prosecuted.

The council said that Ms Amiri had worked for it for five years in London and her duties included the translation of Iranian books into English. The council said it did not do any work in Iran.

A British Council spokesperson said: "We welcome the news that our colleague Aras Amiri has been temporarily released by the Iranian authorities.

"We remain profoundly concerned for Aras' safety and wellbeing, and the global situation regarding Covid-19 makes that even more acute."

Ms Amiri was held with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British aid worker, who was also given temporary freedom from prison after nearly four years in jail.

A decision on whether Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release would become permanent was delayed from Wednesday to this weekend, her supporters said.