Aras Amiri Tried to Educate British People About Iranian Culture. Now She’s Serving a 10-Year Prison Sentence in Iran
Intelligence Ministry Bans Working for the British Council Without Legal Backing
The family of Aras Amiri, a young Iranian woman who is serving a 10-year prison sentence in Iran because she worked for the British Council, has responded to a statement by the country’s Intelligence Ministry banning all Iranians from working for the UK-based charity and cultural relations organization.
“Aras was in contact with senior officials at the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry and frequently traveled to Iran to visit her family without any problems,” said a statement by Amiri’s family published on Facebook on November 6, 2019.
“The security officials never warned her that they had an issue with her working for the British Council. Not even once.”
“She has not only been given the maximum punishment for a crime she did not commit but is also being harshly treated inside prison,” added the statement.
No law bans Iranian citizens from working for British organizations, but in August 2019 an Appeals Court upheld a 10-year prison sentence against Amiri for introducing Iranian art and culture to English-speaking people in the UK while employed at the British Council.
The sentence was upheld without a hearing in which Amiri could present her case.
Branch 36 of the Appeals Court in Tehran upheld the 10-year prison sentence against Amiri on the charge of “forming and organizing a network for the purpose of overthrowing the Islamic Republic” as well as a two-year work and travel ban to be enforced against her after she completes her sentence.
In a July 2019 letter from Evin Prison, Amiri wrote that she had turned down an “explicit invitation” to spy for Iran’s Intelligence Ministry: “Following my release on bail… the case investigators kept contacting me. During our third meeting, I turned down their explicit invitation for cooperation and told them I could only work in my specific field, not any other kind of work.”
Now the Intelligence Ministry, which operates under President Hassan Rouhani, has released a statement prohibiting Iranians from working for the British Council even though no such law exists.
“We inform the noble people of Iran and the country’s cultural and intellectual elite that England has a long history of building networks and creating trends for the purpose of infiltrating various countries and had plans to implement this project here through the British Council,” the ministry said in a statement published online November 5, 2019.
“The plans involved a number of Iranian experts and activists in educational and cultural fields,” added the statement. “They were under the surveillance of Imam Zaman’s unknown soldiers whose timely action prevented the realization of England’s infiltration plans. Any cooperation with the British Council is prohibited and violators will face prosecution.”
Imam Zaman was the last in the line of the Twelve Ithna Ashari Imams according to Shia branch of Islam. Amiri has repeatedly stated that she never conducted any work for the British Council while inside Iran.
A 33-year-old former student of the Kensington College of Business in the UK, Amiri had traveled to Iran to visit an ailing grandmother when she was first arrested in March 2018.
Her cousin Mohsen Omrani told CHRI in August 2019 that Amiri’s family was devastated after Iranian authorities didn’t follow through on their “promises” to get her sentence overturned.
“Her family was hopeful after approaching Iranian authorities for help,” he said. “The authorities had made favorable promises that her sentence would be overturned. Naturally, the family is now very upset that the sentence was upheld without any change.”
Omrani continued: “Aras did not engage in any activities against national security, inside or outside Iran. In fact, she was basically just working to introduce Iranian art and culture to English-speaking people. She had very limited, transparent and formal contacts with [Iran’s] Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry and Intelligence Ministry officials and other security authorities never doubted or questioned her activities.”
“From the very beginning, the only thing she and her family have asked for was fairness on the basis of facts,” he added. “Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened. To the contrary, she was given the maximum punishment without any evidence at all.”
Amiri is among several detained Iranian citizens with foreign ties or citizenship who’ve stated on the record that were pressured to spy for Iran or face prolonged imprisonment before being imprisoned.
In July 2019, the husband of imprisoned charity worker and Iranian-British citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe told CHRI that agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had repeatedly pressured his wife to spy.
“Particularly since during the second week of her hunger strike she was visited three times by IRGC interrogators who were pressuring her to sign a denouncement of the British government and new confession, and agree to spy for Iran when released or face a long sentence in a second court case,” he said.
In an undated letter from Evin Prison, Iranian-born Swedish citizen and scientist Ahmadreza Djalali wrote that he was imprisoned for refusing to spy for Iran’s Intelligence Ministry.
“My answer was NO, and I told them that I am just a scientist, not a spy, and my scientific help to Iran’s academic centers comes from my love and commitment to my motherland,” he said.
Amiri, who does not hold foreign citizenship, is currently being held in the Women’s Ward of Evin Prison.
Read this article in Persian.