Telegraph | By Eleanor Steafel | May 15, 2019
An Iranian woman working for the British Council is thought to have been jailed in the same prison as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian mother sentenced to five years in prison for spying in 2016.
The British Council said it believes one of its Iranian employees, Aras Amiri, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for spying.
Sir Ciarán Devane, chief executive of the UK cultural organisation, said he was “dismayed” by the reported sentence and was “profoundly concerned for Aras’ safety and wellbeing”.
“We firmly refute the accusation levied against her,” he added.
Iran says Ms. Amiri has confessed to co-operating with British intelligence. She was detained in March 2018 while visiting her elderly grandmother, and charged two months later with “acting against national security”.
A spokesman for Iran’s judiciary, Gholamhossein Esmaili, said on Monday that an unnamed Iranian woman who was “in charge of the Iran desk at the British Council” had been convicted of spying.
Aras Amiri, an Iranian national, was detained in Iran on March 14 2018 for national security offences
This woman had, Mr. Esmali alleged, used contacts with arts and theatre groups to “influence and infiltrate” Iran at a cultural level. Once arrested, she quickly and clearly confessed, he added.
Ms. Amiri’s cousin, Mohsen Omrani, told the BBC that she was the woman currently being held, and confirmed she was in the same section of Tehran’s Evin prison as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – with many supporters on social media already calling her ‘the next Nazanin’.
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said the two women had become friends and that they were both chess pieces on the same political board. “It is outrageous. The UK needs to step up and protect citizens. Nazanin and others are being held as bargaining chips,” he said.
Sir Ciarán said Ms. Amiri had been “employed for five years in London to help greater appreciation of Iranian culture in the UK, for example supporting translations of Iranian books into English”.
“The British Council does not do any work in Iran and Aras did not travel to Iran for work. We will remain in close contact with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.”