Iranian British Council worker jailed

File photo showing skyline of Tehran, Iran (1 April 2019)Image copyright

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British diplomats in Tehran are seeking further information from Iranian authorities

An Iranian national has been sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran for spying for the UK, state media report.

Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili was quoted as saying that the unnamed individual was “in charge of the Iran desk of the British Council”.

They confessed to “co-operating with British intelligence”, he alleged.

The identity of the individual was not clear. But a London-based British Council employee and art student, Aras Amiri, was held in Iran in March 2018.

Ms Amiri’s cousin said last May that she had been accused of “acting against national security” – a charge that has been laid by Iranian authorities against a range of activists, journalists and a number of dual citizens and foreign nationals detained in recent years.

The UK is currently engaged in a protracted effort to free another woman, the dual British-Iranian national, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, from prison in Tehran. She was also accused of spying – a charge she has denied.

The British Council, the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities, said last year that it was aware that one of its staff had been detained in Iran while making a private family visit, without identifying them as Ms Amiri.

On Monday, its chief executive, Sir Ciarán Devane, said: “We have seen reports that an Iranian national, claimed to be an employee of the British Council, has been sentenced. However we have not been able to confirm that this is our colleague.

“Our colleague’s safety and wellbeing remain our first concern, as it has been throughout their detention. We are in close contact with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.”

The British Council noted that the employee detained last year was not head of “the Iran desk”, but someone who “worked in the UK in a junior role to support and showcase the Iranian contemporary art scene to UK audiences”.

The British Council does not have offices or representatives in Iran, and it does not do any work in Iran.

“We are a non-political organisation committed to people-to-people engagement, and our staff are not connected to any espionage agency,” Sir Ciarán added.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it was concerned by the reports from Iran, but that it had not been able to confirm any further details at this stage.

“British Embassy officials in Tehran are in touch with the Iranian government to seek further information,” it added.

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