May 16, 2019
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May has said she is “deeply concerned” about the jailing in Iran of a British Council employee on espionage charges.
“It’s utterly shocking,” May told parliament on May 15, saying the woman was working for a legitimate organization that was trying to promote better relations between countries.
Iran’s judiciary announced on May 13 that an unnamed Iranian woman who was in charge of the British Council’s Iran desk had been convicted of spying and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The British Council later said it “sadly seems likely” that the woman was one of its Iranian employees, Aras Amiri, who was arrested in March 2018 while visiting her elderly grandmother in her home country.
“We firmly refute the accusation levied against her,” Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Britain’s overseas cultural agency, said in a statement on May 14.
Devane said Amiri had been “employed for five years in London to help greater appreciation of Iranian culture” in Britain, for instance “supporting translations of Iranian books into English.”
May told lawmakers that British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was “taking this issue up, the government will press the case and the concerns that have been raised.”
In 2009, Iran closed the British Council offices in Tehran in response to the launch in London of the BBC’s Persian service.