Jailed student Aras Amiri has written to the Chief Justice of the Islamic Republic, calling for him to honor her human rights and describing how she has been unlawfully treated and stating that she and her family have both endured insults from Iranian authorities while she has been under arrest.
Amiri, as aesthetics and art theory student at London’s Kingston University and a British Council employee, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for spying. She holds Iranian citizenship but also has permanent resident status in the United Kingdom and had lived in London for about 10 years at the time she was arrested by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence on March 14, 2018.
The arrest came just five days after Amiri had returned to Iran to visit her ailing grandmother. She was released on bail after 68 days but on September 7, 2018, she was summoned again, arrested and transferred to Evin Prison. On May 13, 2019, Gholam Hossein Esmaili, a judiciary spokesman, announced that Amiri had been given a sentence of 10 years in prison following her giving “clear confessions.”
In her recent letter to Ebrahim Raeesi, the head of the judiciary, Amiri writes that she was arrested on the street, and was at first taken to Tehran’s Esteghlal Hotel for questioning and then transferred to Evin Prison. Authorities set a bail of 70 million tomans (around $16,5000) but despite the bail being posted in cash, she was not released. Officials said “it had been a mistake to set bail” in order to justify their actions.
Amiri spent 69 days at Evin Prison’s Ward 209, 30 days of them in solitary confinement. In her letter, she says that she was interrogated continuously, morning and evening — which, from a legal point view, amounts to torture.
Most of the interrogations focused on her job in the UK. Amiri says that she was sentenced to 10 years in prison based on no evidence and merely because she was working for the British Council, a cultural organization.
In the letter, Amiri describes her job at the British Council. “In 2013, through a help-wanted ad, I applied for the job of Iran’s artistic affairs [officer] at the British Council, an internationally reputable cultural institute,” she writes. “I was hired after an interview. I considered this job as an opportunity to earn a living through my field of studies, to stay a resident of the UK and to showcase the art of my country. The British Council is an official institution of the British government for international cultural relations and had an official office in Iran until 2008. The Iran section of the British Council in its London offices includes areas of arts, the teaching of English and digital [activities] and it is supervised by the British Council’s director general for Iran and its director general for South Asia. I say emphatically that I had no role in creating or managing [the Iran section] and I was only an ordinary employee (the lowest level job) and got my job through a help-wanted ad.”
Refusing the Offer to Spy for the Islamic Republic
She writes that after being interrogated and posting bail, her interrogators got in contact with her and asked her to work for them. “During my third visit,” Amiri writes, “I rejected their explicit offer to work with them and told them that I can only do an official job in my own specialized field and nothing else.”
After she rejected this offer, Amiri was summoned and informed of a new charge against her. “Shortly after the last meeting,” she writes, “Mr. Ghanaatkar, my case’s examining magistrate (of Branch 1 of Tehran’s District 33 Court) summoned me and during the third questioning session he informed of the new charge, ‘founding and directing a network for overthrowing the regime’ based on Article 498 of the Islamic Penal Code. By offering the justification that I was a flight risk, the bail warrant was changed to an arrest warrant and I was sent directly from Branch 1 of Evin Court to the communal ward of Evin Prison.”
Article 498 of the Islamic Penal Code states that “Anyone, with any ideology, who establishes or directs a group, society, or branch inside or outside the country, with any name or title, that constitutes more than two individuals and aims to perturb the security of the country...shall be sentenced to [between] two to 10 years’ imprisonment.”
Aras Amiri further writes that she first learned about her 10-year sentence not because she received a court verdict or heard through her lawyer, but by watching the news on national television. In addition, the charge the judiciary spokesman announced had changed to espionage. “I could not believe it that they were saying that I was connected to British intelligence services and was an agent of cultural infiltration,” she states in her letter.
“How can working at an official institution of the British government be considered cooperation with British intelligence services when this government is not only not an enemy government but has diplomatic and economic relations with Iran at the highest political level?” she asks. “On what legal basis, argument or logic have I been identified as the founder or the director of an institution that was active 50 years before I was born (and the Iran section was created 40 years before I was born) and my activities in this British state institution fall under Article 498 of the Islamic Penal code?”
Amiri concludes her letter by asking the Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raeesi to take action to ensure her rights are restored and justice is carried out.
Iranian Academic Arrested for Spying, July 14, 2019
Spy for Us or Else: Ahmad Reza Jalali, May 21, 2019
Spy for Us or Else: Hamid Babaei and Omid Kokabee, May 21, 2019
Spy for Us or Else: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, May 20, 2019
Spy for Us or Else: Aras Amiri, May 17, 2019
Iranian Agents Asked a Jailed Student to Spy, May 14, 2019