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Aras Amiri: Iran releases British-Iranian woman accused of spying

A British-Iranian dual citizen who worked for the British Council has been released from Evin prison and has returned to the UK after being cleared of espionage charges.

Aras Amiri’s lawyers had appealed to the Iranian Supreme Court, which led to her being released. She is now at an unknown address in the UK.

The 34-year-old, who worked as an artistic assistant for the British Council, was visiting relatives in Tehran in 2018 when she was detained. In May 2019, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage after saying she refused to become an informant for Iranian intelligence. Three months later, she lost an appeal.

“We’ve Always Refuted” [sic] the original charges against Aras,” the British Council said on Wednesday. “We are very proud of her work in our London office as an arts program associate supporting a greater understanding and appreciation of Iranian culture in the UK. This was important work, reflecting the value of cross-border cultural cooperation. The well-being of Aras remains our priority. We ask that her privacy is respected as she rebuilds her life in the UK after a long and difficult period.”

In 2019, Amiri wrote to then Chief Justice and now President-elect, Ebrahim Raisi, requesting an investigation into the false charges against her.

She said the reason she was imprisoned was her refusal to spy for Iranian intelligence. “After my release on bail…the detectives continued to contact me,” she wrote. “At our third meeting, I declined their explicit invitation to collaborate and told them I could only work in my specific field, not any other type of work.

“In light of the unlawful actions in the handling of my case and the insults against myself and my family, I am writing to request Your Excellency to conduct an investigation,” Amiri wrote. The letter was translated by the Center for Human Rights in Iran.

A number of British-Iranian nationals have been jailed in Iran on similar charges, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was sentenced to an additional year in prison in April 2021, shortly before finishing her five-year sentence. During Amiri’s imprisonment, she shared a cell with many other people of dual nationality.

Talks about the future of the Iran nuclear deal, which is considered critical to wider Euro-Iranian relations, continue in Vienna, with some relatives of those still in detention hoping Amiri’s release is a sign of a slow thaw on the issue of detainees.