Anoosheh Ashoori loses final appeal against conviction for spying on Iran

Family says he is being held hostage until UK repays debt of £400m to Iran over aborted arms supply deal

Gabriella Ratcliffe (2-R) and Elika Ashoori (R) outside the UK Parliament calling for the release of their parents, Nazanin and Anoosheh, who have spent years in Iranian jail. EPA
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A retired British-Iranian engineer jailed more than four years ago in Tehran’s Evin prison has lost his final appeal against his conviction for spying on Iran.

Anoosheh Ashoori, 67, lost his appeal last year against what the UK government considers as trumped up charges of working for Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad but the family’s lawyer learnt only last week that it had been unsuccessful.

In a double blow for the family, Iranian authorities rejected a second request for freedom after Mr Ashoori served a third of his 10-year sentence, which could start a process leading to release for good behaviour.

The setbacks came after hopeful signs that Mr Ashoori could be released this summer as part of an agreement struck between London and Tehran before it collapsed amid mutual recriminations.

Lawyers for the father-of-two said on Tuesday that all legal avenues to challenge his sentence in Iran were blocked.

“All of the remedies that were possible, arguable or available in Iran … have been exhausted,” said Nigel Edwards, a lawyer for the family.

Mr Ashoori was arrested in 2017 after travelling to Iran to visit his 86-year-old mother and is one of at least four British-Iranians held in prison or unable to leave the country.

Charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe lost an appeal against her second jail term in Iran last week and could be returned to prison at any time, her supporters fear.

At least 17 other dual citizens are being held in Iran and used as diplomatic pawns in Tehran’s campaign to secure prisoner swaps or other financial deals.

The family believe he is being held because of a continuing wrangle over a debt owed to Iran over an arms agreement that was aborted after the 1979 revolution when the UK retained the payments for the deal. The issue continues to rumble through the courts with the UK government saying that economic sanctions imposed on Iran has complicated the proposed repayment.

Mr Ashoori’s wife, Sherry Izadi, said she had no great hope that the appeals process would lead to his permanent release. “It just means that the only recourse we have now is through the Foreign Office – there’s no other legal avenue to explore,” she said.

Britain’s Foreign Ministry has faced criticism for its efforts compared with other nations such as the US, which has secured the release of dual citizens including US Navy veteran Michael White.

A deal last year saw him released in return for allowing an accused Iranian sanctions-breaker in the US to return to Iran to visit his family. Campaigners say they know of no Iranian in British jails who could be released as part of a swap.

Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a British-Australian citizen, who spent more than two years inside Evin, said governments should form coalitions to combat Iranian hostage-taking and agree strategies to secure the releases of those already held.

“I would love to know why countries that seem very willing to work together on all manner of other issues … can’t seem to even talk to each other when it comes to dealing with a problem that many are facing right now,” she said during a webinar on Mr Ashoori’s case.

Canada in February secured the support of 57 other countries to condemn hostage diplomacy but without any promises to act against countries that arrest foreigners on fabricated charges.

The US, Austria, Sweden, France and Germany are among the countries who have dual-citizens held in Iran. Iran does not recognise dual nationality for Iranians and those inmates are prevented from receiving consular visits.

Ms Moore-Gilbert said a long history of mistrust of Britain during its 19th century era of colonialism continued to count against the country as it sought to free its citizens. She said she was advised by her interrogators to contact Australian consulate officials while behind bars for a better chance of being released.

Updated: October 19, 2021, 2:40 PM