Aras Amiri has returned to Britain after his detention in Iran


LONDON — A British cultural organization said on Wednesday that one of its associates from Iran had been acquitted of espionage charges by that country’s Supreme Court and was back in Britain after more than three years in prison.

In March 2018, while visiting her grandmother in Iran, the woman, Aras Amiri, was arrested along with other British-linked Iranians in what was believed to be an attempt by authorities to influence an old dispute with Britain over $400 million undelivered weapons.

Ms Amiri, an art student who has been employed by the British Council for five years to “promote a greater appreciation of Iranian culture in the UK”, is an Iranian national who had lived in the UK for around 10 years prior to her arrest. Iran’s Supreme Court acquitted her in August, the council said, and she returned to Britain this week after the travel ban linked to her original detention was lifted.

Credit…Photo provided by Mohsen Omrani

She had been sentenced to 10 years in prison in April 2019, a sentence announced on state television before she or her lawyer was informed, according to a letter Ms Amiri wrote from prison in June 2019 and that her cousin wrote Mohsen Omrani sent to the Center for Human Rights in Iran, a New York-based advocacy group.

According to the letter, which was addressed to Ebrahim Raisi, the then justice chief and current president, Ms Amiri said she had been jailed for her connection to the British Council and had declined an “express invitation” to spy for Iran’s intelligence ministry.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Ms Amiri’s lawyer, Hojjat Kermani, said Iran’s Supreme Court had ruled that her previous conviction for espionage “violated Sharia,” or Islamic law.

“We have always refuted the original allegations against macaws,” the British Council said in a statement on Wednesday. “We are very proud of her work in our London office as an arts program officer.”

Ms Amiri was held in Evin prison north of Tehran. Before being acquitted and returning to the UK, Ms Amiri had been released on holiday in April 2020 over concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

The case underscored that Iranian authorities are targeting dual nationals and Iranian citizens with ties to the West as bargaining chips in geopolitical disputes.

British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was sentenced to five years in prison in 2016 after she was accused of plotting to overthrow the government in Tehran. In April, she was handed a further one-year prison sentence and a travel ban on renewed charges of carrying out “propaganda activities” against the Iranian government.

Several foreigners and dual nationals are being held in Iranian prisons, including Nahid Taghavi, a German-Iranian architect; Siamak Namazi, a businessman, and his father, Baquer Namazi, a former Unicef ​​official, both Iranian-American; Dr. Ahmad Reza Jalali, a Swedish-Iranian doctor and researcher; and Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian-American environmentalist.

Farnaz Fassihi contributed reporting.


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