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Iran sentences British Council worker to 10 years in jail

Judiciary spokesperson says the as-yet unidentified Iranian woman confessed to working for 'English spying agencies'
A British Council employee, Aras Amiri, was arrested in Iran in 2018 during a trip to visit relatives, but it was not clear if she was the person sentenced on Monday (AFP)

Iran sentenced an Iranian British Council worker to 10 years in jail for "spying", local media reported on Monday.

A judiciary spokesperson said the woman, who has not been identified, confessed to the crime of spying.

"An Iranian citizen in charge of the Iran desk at the English cultural council called British Council was cooperating with English spying agencies," said spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili, according to the judiciary's news website, Mizan Online.

He said the sentence was handed down recently and did not identify the suspect, who "had made a straightforward confession and was sentenced to 10 years by the court".

Esmaili added that the suspect, who had been tasked with drawing up and managing cultural "infiltration" projects, was arrested by Iranian intelligence and security agencies "more than a year ago".

The British Council is a cultural and educational organisation that operates overseas, but according to its website it is not "physically present" in Iran.

Iranian authorities shut down the British Council more than a decade ago for what Esmaili described as "illegal activities".

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Esmaili said that during her confession, the suspect described how she had been recruited and provided information on "the instructions that the English security agency had given" her.

The spokesman said that she was "an Iranian student who wanted to live and work in the UK", and had been "employed by the British Council" and "repeatedly travelled to Iran under aliases... and made connections with artistic and theatre groups".

A London-based British Council employee, Aras Amiri, was arrested in Iran in 2018 during a trip to visit relatives, but it was not immediately clear if she was the person sentenced on Monday.

Ciaran Devane, chief executive of the Council, said in a statement that his organisation was aware of the reports but had not been able to confirm if Amiri was the person sentenced.

"Our colleague's safety and wellbeing remain our first concern, as it has been throughout their detention," he said, according to the Independent.

"We are in close contact with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office."

The sentencing comes amid tensions between Iran and Britain over the fate of British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was arrested by Iranian authorities in 2016 as she was leaving Tehran.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was put on trial and is now serving a five-year jail sentence for allegedly trying to topple the Iranian government. She denies the charges.