The family of a UK resident detained in Iran on spying charges have urged the UK government to do more to secure her release after a 10-year prison sentence against her was upheld without a hearing.
A news site in Iran reported on Monday that an appeal against her sentence had been rejected.
Her cousin Dr Mohsen Omrani, a medical researcher based in Canada, said the family was informed on Sunday about a decision he said was taken without a proper hearing.
And he said the family was calling on the UK government to intervene. “The whole family thinks the British should do more,” he told the Guardian.
He said: “My aunt [Aras’s mother] messaged me on Sunday to say the family had received the decision. It was made without her presence, or her attorney’s presence, in the appeal court. They just ratified the first ruling.”
He said all her immediate family in Iran, and her fiance in London, were trying to secure her release. “They are trying to keep their spirits up, and trying to meet different officials and members of parliament to try to secure her release or reduce her sentence. But unfortunately it is not working.”
Omrani said the family feared Amiri was being used as bargaining chip at a time of growing tension between Iran and the UK and US.
She is being held in Evin prison along with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the Iranian-British citizen serving a five-year sentence for alleged spying.
Amiri’s detention was part of a string of arrests involving British dual nationals or Iranians linked with British institutions. Amiri worked for five years as an artistic affairs officer for the British Council where she organised artistic exchanges between Britain and Iran.
Omrani said: “The only reason she is in prison is because she is an employee of the British Council. It is the responsibility of the British government to make sure that she is returned safely to the UK. She is not a UK citizen, so I can see how the British government might think that it is not their problem, but she was essentially in service for the British government and that’s why this happened.”
He added: “We all think that the main blame goes to the Iranian government. But we think the British government should intervene more forcefully to get her released.”
He said the family was aware of “behind the curtain activities” to try to secure her release, but he added: “Whatever it was it is yet not working.”
He also criticised the British Council for insisting Amiri and other staff use pseudonyms. He said that even though his cousin was not visiting Iran for the council, her British council pseudonym was cited in the spying indictment against her.
Sir Ciarán Devane, the chief executive of the British Council, rejected the charges against Amiri. He said: “Further to reports, we would like to express our deep disappointment and dismay that our colleague Aras Amiri has had her appeal against her 10-year sentence rejected by the Iranian authorities. We remain extremely concerned for Aras’s safety and wellbeing and continue to refute the accusation levied against her.”
In an appeal letter to Iran’s chief justice, Ebrahim Raisi, Amiri said she had refused to spy for Iran’s intelligence service before she was sentenced. The letter, which was sent in June and published by the US-based Centre for Human Rights in Iran, said: “I turned down their explicit invitation for cooperation and told them I could only work in my specific field, not any other kind of work.”
Omrani said: The Iranian regime wanted to put pressure on the British Council. They wanted her to be an informant for the Iranian government inside the British Council, and when she refused they escalated her charges.”
Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the centre, called for Amiri’s immediate release.