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Iran: British Council worker freed to appeal jail sentence

British resident Aras Amiri has claimed she was arrested for refusing to spy for Iran
Iranian national Aras Amiri has permanent residency in the United Kingdom (Screengrab)

A British Council employee in Iran has been released from prison after three years to appeal her sentence, The Telegraph reported on Thursday.

Aras Amiri, a British resident with Iranian nationality, was released on bail in "early July" after being granted a retrial, the paper reported, citing Iranian human rights groups.

The 34-year-old, who was visiting relatives in Tehran in 2018 when she was detained for allegedly confessing to spying for the British government - or, “assembly and collusion against national security” - a charge she denies.

In May 2019, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison. In August of that year she lost an appeal.

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At the time she wrote an open letter from prison to Iran’s then-chief justice and now president-elect Ebrahim Raisi, asking him to conduct an investigation into the false charges against her. She said the reason she has been imprisoned was her refusal to spy for the Iranian intelligence services.

“Following my release on bail… the case investigators kept contacting me,” she wrote in the letter, translated by the Centre for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). “During our third meeting, I turned down their explicit invitation for cooperation and told them I could only work in my specific field, not any other kind of work.”

Iran’s judiciary spokesperson said that Amiri was a student in the UK before being recruited by the British Council to run its Iran desk, and was in charge of projects for “cultural infiltration” in Iran.

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities, working in arts and culture, the English language, education and civil society.

It had said that Amiri’s role at the organisation was to support and promote Iranian art in the UK and that she had travelled to Iran on a private trip to visit family, not for work.

So far, no date has been set for her retrial.

In late April, dual British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to a year in jail and banned from leaving Iran for a further 12 months. She has been held in the country since 2016.