U.K. Woman Detained in Iran on Spying Charges While Visiting Family Released After 3 Years

Aras Amiri, an Iranian employee of the British Council, has been freed and returned to the United Kingdom on Wednesday after winning her appeal in Iran's Supreme Court.

Amiri was detained for more than three years in Iran and sentenced to a decade in prison over widely criticized espionage charges. She had been arrested during a private trip to see her family in Tehran. The trip did not involve her work.

After holding Amiri for months, Iran sentenced her in 2019 to 10 years in prison on charges of spying on cultural activities in Iran. There was no immediate word on her release, but her lawyer, Hojjat Kermani, confirmed her acquittal to the Associated Press. He said the Supreme Court ruled that her espionage conviction in Revolutionary Court was "against Shariah," or Islamic law.

Kermani said Amiri flew out of Tehran on Monday. She had been free in recent months and was appealing a travel ban.

"We have always refuted the original charges made against Aras," the British 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."

Amiri's arrest in 2019 highlighted the dangers faced by those with Western ties in Iran. Former President Donald Trump abandoned Iran's landmark nuclear deal with world powers and piled crushing sanction on the country.

Petition for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Aras Amiri, an Iranian employee of the British Council, has been freed and returned to the United Kingdom on Wednesday after winning her appeal in Iran's Supreme Court. In the photo, from left: Gabriella Ratcliffe, the daughter of jailed British Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Tulip Siddiq MP, Richard Ratcliffe and Janet Daby MP display a petition signed by Members of Parliament calling on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to work to free the jailed British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe prior to handing it to number 10 Downing Street in central London on September 23, 2021, on the occasion of the 2,000th day of Nazanin's detention in Iran. Daniel Leal/Getty Images

A number of dual nationals have landed in Iranian prisons in recent years as tensions between Tehran and the West simmer. Rights groups accuse Iran of holding dual nationals as bargaining chips for money or influence in negotiations with the West, something Tehran denies.

For over five years a British-Iranian worker for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, has been detained in Iran on internationally refuted spying charges.

After completing her sentence, Zaghari-Ratcliffe walked free from prison last year—only for authorities to sentence her to another year in jail on new propaganda charges. Zaghari-Ratcliffe's family links her imprisonment to a long-running $530 million debt dispute owed to Tehran by London for Chieftain tanks that were never delivered.

Another British-Iranian dual national, Anoush Ashoori, was sentenced to 12 years in prison at the same time as Amiri and remains in detention. A U.N. panel has lambasted what it calls "an emerging pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual nationals" in Iran.

Meanwhile, Western negotiators have raised alarm that time is running out to resuscitate Iran's collapsed nuclear deal.

After a five-month hiatus in the talks, Iran under recently elected hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi has presented maximalist demands at the negotiating table even as it accelerates its nuclear program. Iran now enriches uranium over 60 percent—a short step from weapon's grade levels—and spins far more advanced centrifuges and more of them than were ever allowed under the accord.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.