‘British spy’ is jailed for ten years in Iran ‘after confessing’

A female Iranian British Council worker has been jailed form ten years in Tehran after being accused of spying for the UK.

The Iranian national, identified by her family as Aras Amiri, 32, was arrested in March last year after visiting her home country to see her ailing grandmother.

Iranian judiciary spokesman, Gholamhossein Esmaili, said the woman revealed on Monday a British Council employee had been given the jail term for ‘cultural infiltration’ – failed to identify the alleged spy.

Amiri’s cousin Mohsen Omrani, however, told MailOnline on Monday that she was the woman sentenced. 

Omrani previously said last year she had been accused of colluding and acting against the national security.

Iran said she had been ‘cooperating with Britain’s intelligence agency’ and had made ‘clear confessions’ before being sentenced.  

The sentencing comes amid rising tensions between Tehran and the West over its nuclear and missile programmes. 

The British Council is a cultural and educational organisation 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’.

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’ had been ’employed by the British Council’ and ‘repeatedly travelled to Iran under aliases… and made connections with artistic and theatre groups’.

In his statement, Esmaili said: ‘An Iranian who was in charge of Iran desk in the British Council and was cooperating with Britain’s intelligence agency… was sentenced to 10 years in prison after clear confessions.’ 

The United Kingdom’s foreign ministry voiced concern over the sentence.

‘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.

‘British Embassy officials in Tehran are in touch with the Iranian government to seek further information.’

The arrest of Iranians accused of espionage has increased since Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last year there had been ‘infiltration’ of Western agents in the country.  

A British-Iranian woman held in Tehran, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, is serving a five-year prison sentence for allegedly planning the ‘soft toppling’ of Iran’s government while traveling with her young daughter.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the charity arm of Thomson Reuters, was arrested in April 2016. Her sentence has been widely criticized.

Iran does not recognize dual nationality. 

Hours after news of Amiri’s sentencing, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband called the jail term ‘a real slap in the face’.

Richard Ratcliffe said it was ‘outrageous’ that the suspect was given a 10-year jail term.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is part-way through her own five-year jail sentence after being accused of spying by Tehran’s Islamist regime, a charge she vehemently denies.

Speaking after the alleged spy was sentenced, Mr Ratcliffe told the Press Association: ‘It is outrageous, really – the UK needs to step up and protect citizens.

‘Nazanin called me last night to say that somebody was being taken down from the cells to be sentenced by the judge.

‘She was very despondent.’

The sentence comes after medical tests which would have enabled his wife to venture out of the prison building in Tehran were deemed void and need to be retaken.

He said: ‘It’s a clear example of hostage diplomacy not being there. Diplomatic protection needs to show that it means something.

‘To be fair, the court process is nonsense and the health process is nonsense.

‘This is about making it clear to the UK that Nazanin and others are being held as bargaining chips.’

He said he will be speaking to Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in the coming days in an attempt to push for a development in his wife’s case.

Last month Iran’s foreign minister suggested Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe could be released as part of a prisoner swap.

However, he subsequently backed down from the suggestion.

Mr Hunt has already granted her diplomatic protection.

But Tehran refuses to acknowledge her dual nationality and said the UK’s actions were illegal.

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