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UK News: Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband hails release of British Council employee

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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband has said he hopes the release of a British Council employee from an Iranian jail after she was charged with spying is a 'good sign for the rest of us'.

Richard Ratcliffe, whose wife, 44, remains imprisoned in Iran, expressed his hopes of her return after Aras Amiri arrived back in the UK after being released from prison.

Ms Amiri, an Iranian national who resides in Britain, was arrested in March 2018 during a visit to Tehran to see her sick grandmother and sentenced to 10 years in prison the following year by the Iranian judiciary on charges of spying.

Ms Amiri, who was detained for more than three years in Iran, was released after winning her appeal to Iran's Supreme Court

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Aras Amiri, an Iranian national who resides in Britain, was arrested in March 2018 during a visit to Tehran to see her sick grandmother and sentenced to 10 years in prison the following year by the Iranian judiciary on charges of spying. © Provided by Daily Mail Aras Amiri, an Iranian national who resides in Britain, was arrested in March 2018 during a visit to Tehran to see her sick grandmother and sentenced to 10 years in prison the following year by the Iranian judiciary on charges of spying. A number of British-Iranian nationals have been jailed in Iran on similar charges to that of Ms Amiri's, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (pictured in March 2020), who was sentenced to an additional year in prison in April 2021, shortly before finishing her five-year sentence © Provided by Daily Mail A number of British-Iranian nationals have been jailed in Iran on similar charges to that of Ms Amiri's, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (pictured in March 2020), who was sentenced to an additional year in prison in April 2021, shortly before finishing her five-year sentence

Following the decision to release Ms Amiri, Mr Ratcliffe told the BBC: 'We hope it is a good sign for the rest of us.

'Though across all the British cases the signals are mixed, with some potential new releases alongside some potential new cases.'

Iranian employee of British Council freed by Tehran

  Iranian employee of British Council freed by Tehran Aras Amiri had been sentenced to 10 years in jail in 2019 on widely criticised espionage charges.Iranian authorities did not immediately acknowledge the release of Aras Amiri, but it came amid negotiations in Vienna between Tehran and world powers, including the UK, over its tattered 2015 nuclear deal.

Ms Amiri had been arrested and charged with 'cultural infiltration' through the 'arts and her widespread activities' when she visited her sick grandmother in Tehran.

But the British Council, which promotes culture and language in more than 100 countries across the world, had previously stated that the visit was a private one that did not involve her work at the government-founded cultural organisation.

A number of British-Iranian nationals have been jailed in Iran on similar charges to that of Ms Amiri's, including Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was sentenced to an additional year in prison in April 2021, shortly before finishing her five-year sentence.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband Richard Ratcliffe (pictured during his hunger strike last year) expressed his hopes of her return after Aras Amiri arrived back in the UK after being released from prison  © Provided by Daily Mail Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband Richard Ratcliffe (pictured during his hunger strike last year) expressed his hopes of her return after Aras Amiri arrived back in the UK after being released from prison

'We are very pleased to confirm that British Council employee and Iranian citizen Aras Amiri has been acquitted by the Supreme Court in Iran of all charges previously made against her, following a successful appeal lodged by her lawyer,' the British Council said in a statement.

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'We have always refuted the original charges made against Aras. 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 UK,' the Council added.

The British Council has not had staff or offices in Iran since 2009 and in 2019, the Iranian government announced a ban on all collaboration with the organisation.

The release of Ms Amiri came as world powers, including the UK, try to revive the the tattered 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna. Iranian and Gulf Arab diplomats also travel this week for meetings in China, a key signatory of the nuclear accord.

There was no official confirmation of Ms Amiri's release from Iranian authorities.

But from Tehren, Ms Amiri's lawyer Hojjat Kermani, confirmed her acquittal, saying that 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 flew out of Tehran on Monday but had been free in recent months as she appealed a travel ban.

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Ms Amiri's arrest highlighed the dangers faced by those with Western ties in Iran after former President Donald Trump abandoned Iran's landmark nuclear deal with world powers and piled crushing sanctions on the country.

Ms Amiri was held in the same prison as Zaghari-Rathcliffe, a British-Iranian worker for the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been detained in Iran since 2016 on internationally refuted spying charges, with Iran accusing her of plotting to overthrow the government.

She was taking the couple's daughter, Gabriella, to see her family when she was arrested and sentenced to five years in jail, spending four years in Evin Prison and one under house arrest.

But after completing her five-year sentence and walking free, Iranian authorities sentenced her to another year of imprisonment on new propaganda charges, which she strongly denies.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe is now living under house-arrest in Tehran but there are fears she might be sent back to Evin Prison, where political prisoners are often tortured.

Pictured: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who was imprisoned in Iran since April 2016 © Provided by Daily Mail Pictured: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who was imprisoned in Iran since April 2016

Her husband Richard last year held a three-week hunger strike outside the UK foreign ministry to encourage the government to reach a deal for her release.

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He links her imprisonment to a long-running £400 million $546 million debt dispute owed to Tehran by London for Chieftain tanks that were never delivered.

Her husband Richard last year held a three-week hunger strike outside the UK foreign ministry to encourage the government to reach a deal for her release.

Another British-Iranian dual national, Anoush Ashoori, was sentenced to 12 years in prison at the same time as Ms 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 per cent - 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.

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