Iran arrests British Council employee as she visits home country

A London-based British Council employee has been arrested during a family visit to Iran, as the authorities in the country step up targeting people with ties to UK institutions.

Aras Amiri, a 32-year-old Iranian national, was visiting her home country to see her ailing grandmother before the Persian new year, in March, when she was detained, said her cousin, Mohsen Omrani.

Amiri’s detention is the latest in a string of recent arrests involving British dual nationals or Iranians linked with British institutions. Last week it emerged that Abbas Edalat, a professor at Imperial College London, had been arrested in April by the hardline Revolutionary Guards.

The Foreign Office said it was also “urgently seeking information from the Iranian authorities” after being asked about the arrest of Mahan Abedin, an Iranian-British dual national and UK-based analyst and writer.

Mahan Abedin’s publisher, Michael Dwyer from Hurst Publishers, said they were worried that he might have run into trouble during a recent visit to Tehran. “While we heard from Mahan by email on Monday, we have no way of verifying that his messages are genuine, and his long radio silence till then had puzzled us, given the recent arrest of other British citizens of Iranian descent,” he said.

The new cases are a worrying development for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British woman who is serving a five-year jail sentence in Tehran on alleged spying charges and whose family insists she is being punished as a tool of diplomatic pressure.

Speaking on Wednesday, Omrani confirmed his cousin’s arrest in Iran. In a public post on Facebook he wrote: “Aras has been jailed by forces belonging to Iran’s ministry of intelligence. They arrested her before the Eid [Persian new year] and it’s now nearly 50 days that she is being kept in [Tehran] Evin prison’s ward 209.”

Omrani said Amiri had been accused of colluding and acting against the national security, a vague charge used by Iran’s intelligence apparatus against a wide range of activists, journalists and other Iranians arrested for political reasons. Her lawyer has not yet had any access to her, according to her cousin.

Before her arrest Amiri had been living in London for 10 years. She has a residence permit and is studying for a postgraduate degree in philosophy of art at Kingston University. “Simultaneously she has been working for the British Council,” wrote Omrani. “She has worked on film festivals and cultural exchanges between UK and Iran, and more importantly some of her activities have been in cooperation with the artistic department of [Iran’s] cultural ministry.”

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