Iranian British Council worker sentenced to 10 years for 'spying for UK'

Iranian British Council worker sentenced to 10 years for 'spying for UK'
An Iranian British Council worker was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran, allegedly for 'cooperating with English spying agencies' in Iran.
2 min read
13 May, 2019
An Iranian national working for the British Council was arrested last year [AFP]

An Iranian British Council worker was sentenced to 10 years in prison for "spying", the Iranian judiciary's news website Mizan Online reported on Monday, triggering concern from the British foreign office.

A woman "in charge of the Iran desk" at the British Council, accused of "cooperating with English spying agencies", made a "straightforward confession" to the charges and was later charged, judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said.

The suspect had allegedly been tasked with managing cultural "infiltration" projects and was arrested by Iranian intelligence agencies more than a year ago, according to Esmaili.

She was not identified, but a London-based British Council employee was arrested in Iran last year.

Iranian national Aras Amiri, identified by IranWire as being a 23-year-old student at Kingston University, was arrested while visiting family on a private trip, the British Council said last year.

The British Council denied that Amiri had travelled to Iran for work.

It was not immediately clear whether she was the person recently sentenced.

The British Council is a cultural and educational organisation sponsored by the UK's Foreign Office with branches across the world.

However, the British Council is not "physically present" in Iran, according to its website.

The organisation's presence was shut down by the Iranian authorities more than a decade ago for what Esmaili called "illegal activities".

The suspect allegedly described how she had been recruited, describing instructions she had been given by the "English security agency".

Esmaili described her as an Iranian student who wanted to live in the UK, who, after being "recruited", travelled to Iran repeatedly "under aliases" to make connections with "artistic and theatre groups".

"We are very concerned by reports that an Iranian British Council employee has been sentenced to jail on charges of espionage," a spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office told AFP.

Officials from the British Embassy in Tehran were in contact with the Iranian government to discuss the charges, the spokesperson added.

Tensions between Iran and the UK have risen in recent months over the case of British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual national who worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested by the Iranian authorities in 2016 as she was leaving Iran.

She was then put on trial and was sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly trying to topple the Iranian government.

While Iran had previously floated a prisoner swap to release Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif dropped the offer late last month.

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