British Council worker Aras Amiri back in UK after Iran espionage conviction quashed

Arts worker had been arrested in 2018 while visiting family

Aras Amiri. Family photo
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

An Iranian employee of the British Council who was arrested in Tehran and sentenced to 10 years in prison on espionage charges has returned to the UK after a court ordered her travel ban to be lifted.

Aras Amiri had been free for months but barred from leaving Iran until her lawyers successfully appealed to Iran’s Supreme Court.

Ms Amiri was arrested in 2018 and found guilty the following year of spying but supporters said she was only in the country to visit her family and was convicted on trumped up charges.

At least four British dual-nationals are still held in Iranian prisons or barred from leaving the country after being convicted on national security charges.

The release of Ms Amiri came as negotiations continued in Vienna between Tehran and world powers, including the UK, over its collapsed 2015 nuclear deal.

Owing to tensions with Western powers over Iran's nuclear programme, the Islamic Republic in 2019 banned cooperation with the British Council and warned that such activity would result in prosecution.

“We have always refuted the original charges made against Aras,” said the council, the UK’s overseas cultural organisation.

“We are very proud of her work in our London office as an arts programme officer supporting a greater understanding and appreciation of Iranian culture in the UK.”

In Tehran, her lawyer, Hojjat Kermani, confirmed her release and said that the court had ruled that her earlier espionage conviction was contrary to Islamic law. Mr Kermani said Ms Amiri left Tehran on Monday.

Britons who remain in Iran include Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been detained for more than five years in Tehran.

After completing her sentence last year, she was released from prison only for authorities to present new charges of “spreading propaganda against the regime”, which she denies.

Anoosheh Ashoori, another dual national who was arrested in 2017 and jailed for a decade, remains in detention.

Rights groups accuse Tehran of holding dual-nationals as bargaining chips for money or influence in negotiations with the West, something Tehran denies.

A UN panel has criticised what it describes as “an emerging pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual nationals” in Iran.

Ms Amiri’s release comes as world powers negotiate over Tehran’s collapsed nuclear deal in Vienna. The negotiations have dragged on for weeks with little sign of progress under recently-elected hardline President Ebrahim Raisi.

Iranian and Gulf Arab diplomats travelled this week for talks in China, another signatory to the nuclear deal.

European delegates have warned that time is running out to save the deal as Iran accelerates its nuclear programme, spinning uranium in advanced centrifuges up to 60 per cent purity — a short step from weapons-grade levels.

Updated: January 12, 2022, 5:14 PM