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Woman jailed in Iran on suspicion of espionage returns to UK: All you need to know about Aras Amiri

The London-based Iranian woman, who worked as an artistic affairs officer with the British Council, was acquitted of espionage charges by Iran’s Supreme Court and has now returned to the UK after spending more than three years in Elvin prison

Woman jailed in Iran on suspicion of espionage returns to UK: All you need to know about Aras Amiri

File image of Iranian citizen Aras Amiri. Image courtesy: Mohsen Omrani/Aras Amiri Family

A London-based Iranian woman, who worked as an artistic affairs officer with the British Council, was acquitted of espionage charges by Iran’s Supreme Court on Wednesday and has now returned to the United Kingdom after spending more than three years in Elvin prison.

Here’s all you need to know about Aras Amiri and why she was facing espionage charges in her home country:

Who is Aras Amiri and why was she arrested

The 34-year-old Iranian citizen was employed for five years by the British Council “to help greater appreciation of Iranian culture in the UK, for example, supporting translations of Iranian books into English”.

The arts worker was arrested during a visit to her relatives in Tehran in 2018, as the authorities in the country targeted people with British connections, according to The New York Times.

In May 2019, Amiri was sentenced to 10 years in prison on spying charges after she reportedly refused to become an informant for the Iranian intelligence service.

After the sentencing in 2019, Amiri wrote to Ebrahim Raisi, the then-chief justice and now president-elect requesting him to conduct an investigation into the false charges against her, according to The Guardian.

“In light of the unlawful actions in the processing of my case and the insults against myself and my family, I am writing to request Your Excellency to carry out an investigation,” Amiri wrote as reported by The Guardian.

The letter was translated by the Centre for Human Rights in Iran.

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.

“We have always refuted the original charges made against Aras,” the British Council said in a statement on Wednesday.

“We are very proud of her work in our London office as an arts programme officer supporting a greater understanding and appreciation of Iranian culture in the UK. This was important work which reflects the value of cross-border cultural collaboration,” it added.

Other similar cases

Amiri is not the first person to be arrested in Iran allegedly over their British connections. The Iranian authorities in the past have targeted people with dual citizenship or citizens with western connections

In 2016, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian citizen and project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was sentenced to five years in prison for “trying to topple the Iranian government”, according to BBC.

In April 2021, she was further sentenced to one more year in prison and one-year travel ban after being found guilty of spreading propaganda against the Iranian government.

According to The New York Times, several other foreign and dual nationals are held in Iranian prisons, including German-Iranian architect Nahid Taghavi, Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his father, Baquer Namazi, a former official with UNICEF; Swedish-Iranian physician Dr Ahmad Reza Jalali, and Iranian-American environmentalist Morad Tahbaz.

With inputs from agencies

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