UK’s May ‘deeply concerned’ for British Council staffer jailed in Iran

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LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday said it was “utterly shocking” that Iran had sentenced a British Council employee, believed to be Aras Amiri, to 10 years in prison for spying.

May told MPs that the government was “deeply concerned” while the British Council said it was “dismayed” by the news.

Ciaran Devane, Chief Executive of the British Council, on Tuesday said: “It sadly seems likely that our colleague Aras Amiri is the Iranian national who has allegedly been sentenced by Iranian authorities.

“We are dismayed by this reported sentence and are profoundly concerned for Aras’ safety and wellbeing, which has been our absolute priority throughout her detention since early 2018,” he said.

The cultural and educational organisation, with branches around the world, said it “firmly” refutes the spying accusation.

“The British Council does not do any work in Iran and Aras did not travel to Iran for work,” said Devane.

Iranian judiciary news website Mizan Online reported the sentencing on Monday, saying the suspect “made a straightforward confession”.

Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili added that the suspect had been tasked with drawing up and managing cultural “infiltration” projects.

Amiri was arrested in Iran in 2018 during a trip to visit relatives.

Iranian authorities shut down the British Council’s office in Tehran more than a decade ago for what Esmaili described as “illegal activities”.

The sentencing comes amid tensions between Iran and Britain over the fate of British-Iranian mother 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.

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