Aras Amiri, a 32-year-old student of aesthetics and art theory at London’s Kingston University, has been arrested in Iran, IranWire has confirmed. She was arrested on March 14, but her parents have until now insisted on not going public with the news. It was Amiri’s cousin, New Jersey-based Mohsen Omrani, who leaked the news by posting about it on Twitter.
Amiri, who holds Iranian citizenship but also permanent resident status in the United Kingdom, was arrested by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence, Omrani told IranWire in a phone interview. Amiri’s cousin had decided to go public with the news despite objections from Amiri’s parents, who live in the small city of Amol in northern Iran.
The student is being held in the notorious Section 209 of Tehran’s Evin prison, known for housing political prisoners. She has been charged with the familiar and vaguely-defined charge of “collusion against national security,” which can carry up to five years in prison. Iranian authorities regularly bring the charge against dual nationals, and against journalists, artists and activists.
Amiri worked for British Council to facilitate cultural connections between Iran and the UK. All her activities in Iran were done in collaboration with the country’s Ministry of Culture, Omrani has said.
Amiri, who has lived in London for about 10 years, had often visited her home country of Iran without ever running into problems. On March 9, she traveled to Iran for a short trip to visit her grandmother, who is being treated in Amol’s hospital. Just when she was about to return, on March 14, she was arrested in the streets of Tehran.
Amiri’s parents have appointed legal counsel, but she has not been allowed access to the lawyer. Her parents have been able to meet her three times and speak to her on the phone regularly. They report that she is in a good mental state but is anxious to know why she has been imprisoned.
Omrani, who is a neuroscience postdoctoral fellow at Rutgers University, spoke of his cousin Arash Amiri with fondness.
“She was always a vibrant girl and very much into arts and culture,” He told IranWire. “From the age of 14, she wrote beautiful stories, some of which were published in Karnameh [a leading literally magazine in Iran.] She lived in Amol and when she came to Tehran, she stayed with my wife and me and loved to hang out with our friends, who were also interested in arts and culture.”
Aras studied for a Bachelors’ degree in cultural management in Tehran’s Sooreh University and secured a place at Kingston University’s MA program.
Over the last few years, she was making a name for herself as a curator of Iranian art in the UK. In 2014, she curated “Recalling the Future,” an exhibition of “post-revolutionary Iranian Art” at the Brunei Gallery, run by the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) in London. The exhibition featured the work of 29 Iranian artists, who were mainly exhibiting in the UK for the first time, but also included big names such as Reza Abedini, perhaps the country’s best-known graphic designer, known for his blending of Islamic patterns and calligraphy with modern themes. The exhibition was reviewed by prominent media, including in the Financial Times, whose art contributor Gareth Harris hailed as “a cultural entente” following a “long political freeze between Iran and the UK.” Sotheby’s said the exhibition “should make a few of its visitors sit up and take note.”
Earlier, in June 2011, Amiri had joined up with art critic David Gleeson to organize an exhibition on women in contemporary Iran. “Breakfast in Tehran” opened at the Frameless Gallery, and featured “new and established Iranian artists living in Iran and exhibiting in London together for the first time.” It boasted names such as the celebrated photographer Azadeh Akhlaghi. It partnered with Iran’s Azad gallery and was covered by Iran’s official media, including the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA).
More than 30 Iranians with dual citizenship or permanent residence in Western countries have been arrested since 2015, usually by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Most recently, Abbas Edalat, a British-Iranian anti-war activist and computer science professor at London’s Imperial College, was arrested on April 15. Mahan Abedin, another British-Iranian commentator known for his pro-Tehran views, is also said to have been arrested, as first reported by IranWire. Also held in Evin is charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, also a dual citizen of the UK and Iran, who has been in prison since April 3, 2016.