Aras Amiri Has Returned to the U.K. After Being Jailed in Iran

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

While visiting her grandmother in Iran, the woman, Aras Amiri, was arrested in March 2018 along with other Iranians with British connections, in what was thought to be an attempt by the authorities in the country to gain leverage in an old dispute with Britain over more than $400 million in undelivered weaponry.

Ms. Amiri, an art student employed for five years by the British Council to facilitate “greater appreciation of Iranian culture in the U.K.,” is an Iranian citizen who had lived in Britain for around 10 years before she was detained. Iran’s Supreme Court acquitted her in August, the council said, and she returned to Britain this week after the travel ban associated with her original detention was lifted.

Credit…Photo provided by Mohsen Omrani

Ms. Amiri’s acquittal underscores the Iranian authorities’ frequent targeting of dual citizens and Iranian citizens with Western connections, often using their cases as diplomatic bargaining chips or to press for the release of Iranian prisoners abroad.

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

According to the same letter addressed to Iranian judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, Ms. Amiri said that she had been imprisoned because of her association with the British Council and that she had turned down an “explicit invitation” to spy for Iran’s Intelligence Ministry.

“We have always refuted the original charges made against Aras,” the council said in a statement on Wednesday. “We are very proud of her work in our London office as an arts program officer.”

In an interview with The Associated Press, Ms. Amiri’s lawyer, Hojjat Kermani, said that Iran’s Supreme Court had determined that her earlier espionage conviction was “against Shariah,” otherwise known as Islamic law.

Other dual citizens and Iranian citizens with Western connections who have been detained include Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a British-Australian scholar who was detained in 2018 on charges of spying for Israel, and was released in December in a prisoner swap with three Iranian men.

Ms. Amiri was incarcerated in Evin Prison, north of Tehran. Before her acquittal and return to Britain, Ms. Amiri was temporarily released on furlough in April 2020 over concerns about the spread of coronavirus.

Also incarcerated in Evin Prison was another British-Iranian national, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

In April 2020, Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe — a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation at the time of her arrest, who was sentenced to five years in prison in 2016 after she was accused of plotting to overthrow the government in Tehran — was also granted indefinite furlough. (Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was given a one-year sentence and travel ban in April, under new charges of conducting “propaganda activities” against the Iranian government.

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

Farnaz Fassihi contributed reporting.



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