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Iranian woman imprisoned for ‘spying for UK’

An Iranian court has found a woman guilty of spying for the UK alleging that she committed espionage as part of her work for the British Council.

Aras Amiri, an Iranian national, was arrested in Iran in March 2018 while on a private holiday to visit family. According to Iranian authorities she was imprisoned for “cultural infiltration by the British intelligence services in Iranian internal affairs.” Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said the woman had been “in charge of the Iran desk” of the British Council, and the purpose of her visit in March 2018 was to commit acts of espionage.

Esmaili continued: “The person travelled to the country [Iran] using a false name in order to implement design, plan and lead various projects regarding the implementation of the cultural objectives of the old colonialism [UK] inside Islamic Iran. The person was involved in contacting theatre and art groups to implement that very issue of cultural infiltration or cultural ambush.” Emaili said that files at her trial showed she “very quickly and clearly confessed” to passing information to British intelligence agents.” Her identity was not formally announced, but a relative has confirmed her identity.

Last May, Mohsen Omrani, Amiri’s cousin, said she had been accused of “acting against national security”, a charge levelled by Iranian authorities against a range of activists, journalists and a number of dual citizens and foreign nationals. Omrani also said that Amiri is being held in the same section of a prison as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual British-Iranian national, who was found guilty of espionage but the UK Government has been campaigning for her release.

The British Council is a UK international organisation working in arts and culture, English language, education and civil society. It is a charity governed by Royal Charter and receives 15 per cent of its funding from the UK government. It does not have offices or representatives in Iran.

A spokeswoman from the organisation told the BBC that Amiri was not in Iran on British Council business, and that the organisation had not had contact with Amiri since her arrest. British Council Chief Executive Sir Ciaran Devane has expressed concern over “our colleague’s safety and wellbeing.”