*TEHRAN: *An Iranian woman employee of the British Council has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for “spying”, the judiciary’s news website *Mizan Online* reported on Monday.
“An Iranian citizen in charge of the Iran desk at the… British Council was cooperating with English spying agencies,” *Mizan* reported, quoting judiciary spokesperson Gholam hossein Esmaili.
He did not identify the suspect but said she had been sentenced recently after she “made a straightforward confession”.
Esmaili added that the suspect, who had been tasked with drawing up and managing cultural “infiltration” projects, had been arrested by Iranian intelligence and security agencies “more than a year ago”.
Britain’s foreign ministry voiced concern over the case.
“We are very concerned by reports that an Iranian British Council employee has been sentenced to jail on charges of espionage,” a spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said.
“British Embassy officials in Tehran are in touch with the Iranian government to seek further information.”
The British Council, a cultural and educational organisation with branches around the world, said in a statement that “it does not have offices or representatives in Iran , and does not do any work in Iran”.
Iranian authorities shut down the British Council’s office in Tehran more than a decade ago for what Esmaili described as “illegal activities”.
Esmaili said that during her confession, the suspect described how she had been recruited, telling investigators about her instructions from the “English security agency”.
The spokesperson said she was “an Iranian student who wanted to live and work in the UK”, was hired by the British Council and “repeatedly travelled to Iran under aliases… and made connections with artistic and theatre groups”.
A London-based British Council employee, Aras Amiri, was arrested in Iran in 2018 during a trip to visit relatives.
It was not immediately clear if she was the person whose sentencing was announced on Monday.
The “safety and wellbeing (of colleagues) remain our first concern… We are in close contact with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office,” the British Council said.
“We are a non-political organisation committed to people-to-people engagement, and our staff are not connected to any espionage agency.”
The sentencing comes amid tensions between Iran and Britain over the fate of British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who was arrested by Iranian authorities in 2016 as she was leaving Tehran.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was put on trial and is now serving a five-year jail sentence for allegedly trying to topple the Iranian government. -APP/AFP