DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An Iranian employee of the British Council arrested in Tehran and later sentenced to 10 years in prison over internationally criticized espionage charges has been freed and traveled to the United Kingdom, the organization said Wednesday.
Iranian authorities did not immediately acknowledge the release of Aras Amiri. However, it comes amid ongoing negotiations in Vienna between Iran and world powers, including the U.K., over its tattered 2015 nuclear deal.
The British Council said Wednesday that an appeal her lawyers made to Iran's Supreme Court had been successful. Amiri worked for the council's London office.
“We have always refuted the original charges made against Aras,” the council said in a statement. “We are very proud of her work in our London office as an arts program officer supporting a greater understanding and appreciation of Iranian culture in the U.K.”
In Tehran, her lawyer, Hojjat Kermani, confirmed that Amiri had been released in an interview with The Associated Press. He said Iran's Supreme Court had determined that her earlier espionage conviction in the country's Revolutionary Court was “against Shariah,” or Islamic law. He did not elaborate.
Kermani said she left Tehran on Monday but had been free from prison in recent months as she appealed a travel ban.
Iran announced her conviction in 2019. Authorities there accused her of spying on cultural activities in Iran. The British Council previously said she traveled to Tehran to visit family on a private trip that didn't involve her work at the nonpolitical organization that works in arts, culture and education.
As tensions with the West simmer, Iranian authorities have arrested a number of British dual-nationals in recent years. Rights groups accuse Tehran of holding dual-nationals as bargaining chips for money or influence in negotiations with the West, something Tehran denies.
A British-Iranian worker for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been detained for over five years in Tehran. After completing her sentence last year, she was released from prison — only for authorities to present new charges of “spreading propaganda against the regime" that she vigorously denies.
Anoush Ashoori, another dual British-Iranian national, was sentenced to 12 years in prison at the same time as Amiri and remains in detention.
A U.N. panel has criticized what it describes as “an emerging pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual nationals” in Iran.
Amiri's release comes as world powers negotiate over Iran's collapsed nuclear deal in Vienna. The negotiations have dragged on for weeks with little sign of progress under Iran's recently elected hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi. Iranian and Gulf Arab diplomats flew this week for talks in China, another signatory to the nuclear deal.
European delegates have warned that time is running out to save the deal as Iran accelerates its nuclear program, spinning uranium in advanced centrifuges up to 60% purity — a short step from weapon's grade levels.
Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran contributed to this report.