Iranian woman working for British Council jailed for 'spying for UK'

Raf Sanchez
The UK embassy in Tehran was stormed in 2011 - AFP

An Iranian woman working for the British Council has been sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran on allegations that she spied for the UK government. 

Aras Amiri, 33, worked for the UK cultural institution in London and was arrested in Iran in March 2018 while on a private holiday to visit family.

Iranian authorities announced Monday that a woman had been jailed for 10 years for “cultural infiltration by the British intelligence services in Iranian internal affairs”.

The report did not specifically name Ms Amiri as the woman being sentenced but a family member confirmed to The Telegraph that it was her.

Ms Amiri’s conviction is the latest in a long pattern of Iranian authorities arresting and harassing people it accuses of being British spies. 

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a 41-year-old charity worker, has been held for more than three years on espionage allegations, while Iranian authorities have repeatedly targeted employees of the BBC’s Persian service. 

Ms Amiri lived in London for more than a decade and worked at the British Council on projects intended to showcase the Iranian art scene. She was also studying art philosophy at Kingston University. 

The British Council, a charity partly funded by the UK government, closed its offices in Iran in 2009 after its staff were harassed by the Iranian government. The UK embassy closed two years later after it was stormed by a mob.  

Sir Ciarán Devane, the chief executive of the British Council, said: “Our colleague’s safety and wellbeing remain our first concern, as it has been throughout their detention. We are in close contact with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.”

The British Council said had no offices or representatives in Iran and no longer does any work in the country.

A spokesman for the Iranian judiciary described Ms Amiri as being the head of the Iran desk at the British Council but the organisation said she was a junior employee.   

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are very concerned by reports that an Iranian British Council employee has been sentenced to jail on charges of espionage. We have not been able to confirm any further details at this stage and are urgently seeking further information.”