May 13, 2019– Mary Greeley News – Iran said on Monday it had sentenced an Iranian woman to 10 years prison for spying for Britain, as tension rises between Tehran and some Western countries over its nuclear and missile programs.
“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,” Gholamhossein Esmaili, a judiciary spokesman, said on the state television.
Esmaili said the woman was in charge of projects for “cultural infiltration” in Iran. He did not identify her, but said she was a student in Britain before being recruited by the British Council.
The British Council is the UK’s international agency which works to foster cultural and educational links with Britain in more than 100 countries.
Esmaili said the woman had been in custody for almost a year. He did not specify whether she held British nationality.
The British Foreign Office did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment. The British Council is Britain’s cultural agency overseas.
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.
Iran has been increasingly at odds with Western countries since the United States withdrew from a deal Tehran signed with global powers to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.
Britain is a signatory to the nuclear deal. Like other European signatories, it supports maintaining the deal.
The United States has ratcheted up sanctions against Iran this month, revoking waivers that had permitted some countries to continue buying Iranian oil. Tehran has responded by reducing curbs on its nuclear program, although steps it has taken so far stop short of violating the agreement.
Last year, a London-based British Council employee, 32-year-old Aras Amiri, was arrested while she visited family back home in Iran.
The chief executive of the Council, Sir Ciaran Devane, said his organization was aware of the reports but had not been able to confirm if the person sentenced in Iran was actually Ms Amiri.
“Our colleague’s safety and wellbeing remain our first concern, as it has been throughout their detention,” he said.
“We are in close contact with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.”
The British Council also said Ms Amiri was not head of their organization’s “Iran desk” but instead had a junior role in Britain to showcase the contemporary Iranian art scene to a UK audience.
Mr Esmaili said the person who was sentenced was in charge of “cultural infiltration” projects in Iran but did not specify if they were also a British national.
“The British Council does not have offices or representatives in Iran, and we do not do any work in Iran,” the body said in a statement.
“We are a non-political organisation committed to people-to-people engagement, and our staff are not connected to any espionage agency,” Sir Ciaran added.
“We believe that when political or diplomatic relations become difficult cultural exchange helps to maintain open dialogue between people and institutions.”
Iran has a long history of jailing and harassing Iranians who work for British institutions.
In 2009 the Council was forced to suspend all its operations in Iran after its local staff were intimidated by the Iranian authorities into leaving their posts.
Many journalists working for the BBC’s Persian service have been intimidated or seen their families in Iran detained by the authorities and had their bank accounts frozen.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national, has been imprisoned in Iran for three years after being convicted of spying during a visit to her family. She works for the charitable arm of the Thomson Reuters news agency.
Hopes that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe could have be released as part of a prisoner swap were dashed last month after Iran backed away from reports of a possible deal.
The Foreign Office has been contacted for comment.
credit: In part with https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/iran-spy-uk-prison-sentence-british-council-intelligence-jail-a8911121.html