August 23, 2019
The 10-year prison sentence issued against British Council employee Aras Amiri was upheld on August 18, 2019, without a hearing, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has learned.
“In order to expedite cases, [Judiciary Chief] Ebrahim Raisi has decided that there is no longer a need for the Appeals Court to hold hearings,” Amiri’s cousin Mohsen Omrani told CHRI on August 20.
“How can you deny the right to appeal in such a sensitive case when Aras has been sentenced to 10 years in prison?” he said. “Her only hope for changing the verdict was to defend herself in the Appeals Court.”
According to Article 450 of Iran’s Criminal Procedures Regulations, “The Appeals Court should immediately set a time for a hearing and summon all sides whose presence is necessary for the case. All sides can be present in person or through their lawyer. The lawyer’s absence will not prevent the case from being adjudicated.”
But Raisi, who Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed to head the judiciary in March 2019, has been trying to change that process. In a letter addressing the head of the Appeals Court in Tehran Province, Judiciary Spokesman Gholam-Hossein Esmaili wrote that appeals courts are no longer required to hold appeal hearings pending new legislation that would permanently change the process:
“As stated in a meeting with the honorable judiciary officials on July 20 , his excellency the supreme leader has agreed with the respected judiciary chief’s request to temporary eliminate the process stipulated in Article 450 of the Criminal Procedures Regulations until the law is revised. Accordingly, the Appeals Court branches are no longer obliged to follow the necessary legal procedures.”
Branch 36 of the Appeals Court in Tehran accordingly 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 the two-year work and travel ban to be enforced after she completes her sentence.
Tried and Convicted “Without Any Evidence”
“Her lawyer and family asked the [preliminary] court to state the name of the illegal network she supposedly established or directed, but it did not do so,” Omrani told CHRI. “Aras was handed a heavy sentence without any evidence.”
In May 2019, the British Council explained Amiri’s position in a statement signed by Chief Executive Sir Ciaran Devane.
“Aras has been employed for five years in London to help greater appreciation of Iranian culture in the UK, for example supporting translations of Iranian books into English,” said Devane.
“The British Council does not do any work in Iran and Aras did not travel to Iran for work,” he added.
Describing itself as the UK’s “international organization for cultural relations and educational opportunities,” the British Council is a UK-based charity and cultural relations organization that operates independently from the British government.
A student of the UK’s Kensington College of Business, Amiri, 33, was working for the British Council in London before she was arrested in Tehran in March 2018 while visiting her ailing grandmother.
Amiri is an Iranian citizen and does not hold UK citizenship.
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 before she was ultimately sentenced to prison:
“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.”
Omrani told CHRI that Amiri’s family was devastated after Iranian authorities didn’t follow through on their “promises” to get Amiri’s preliminary sentence overturned.
“Her family was hopeful after approaching Iranian authorities for help,” Omrani told CHRI. “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.”
Amiri’s cousin 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 who’ve stated that they’ve been pressured to spy for Iran or face prolonged imprisonment.
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.
“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.