British researcher flees across Iran’s mountain border after spending 100 days in Evin jail

Anthropologist Kameel Ahmady was appealing against a nine-year sentence

Kameel Ahmady believes that his case was politically motivated. Facebook
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A British-Iranian anthropologist sentenced in November to more than nine years in prison in Iran fled the country to the UK and now lives in London.

Kameel Ahmady, accused of conspiring with “a hostile state power”, spent 100 days in Tehran’s notorious Evin jail, where he was subject to interrogation and a period of solitary confinement. He was out on bail while he appealed against his sentence.

Mr Ahmady was researching female genital mutilation in Iran, a deeply sensitive topic in the country, and called for the age of child marriage to be raised. He said he left Iran “out of despair”.

Kameel Ahmady says he left Iran 'out of despair'. Wikimedia Commons
Kameel Ahmady says he left Iran 'out of despair'. Wikimedia Commons

"Once I had been sentenced I had a choice of whether I would stay and not see my family and four-year-old child until he was 14, or to risk fleeing," Mr Ahmady told The Guardian.

He smuggled himself over Iran’s snowy and foggy mountain border, believing that his case was politically motivated and he had little chance of a successful appeal – which was rejected in his absence on Monday.

“I am Kurdish by ethnicity and I know some of the routes, but it was very dangerous. I had to try several times,” Mr Ahmady said.

His arrest in the summer of 2019 came at a time of heightened tensions between Iran and the UK after British marines helped seize an Iranian vessel off Gibraltar that was suspected of breaching EU sanctions by sending oil to Syria.

“By the first week of the interrogation, the British ship was released, but I had no access to the media. I was in solitary confinement. So the only source of information I had was the interrogators.

"And one day, this guy just came and he was so happy. He said, ‘Thank you. Thank you very much. We got our ship back. And I think you made a difference here. So thank you for this, but we still really have a long way to go with you.’

“And I said, ‘So what’s that got to do with me?’ He said, ‘Wow, come on. You are British, you are worth a lot. Britain is the cradle of human rights so of course you are worth a lot to them'.”

epa07774394 An undated handout photo made available by the Kurdistan Human Rights Network shows British-Iranian researcher Kameel Ahmady (L) and his wife Shafaq Rahmani at an undisclosed location, issued 15 August 2019. According to his family, Ahmady has been arrested in Iran by security forces. The claim has not been confirmed by official sources in both countries yet.  EPA/KURDISTAN HUMAN RIGHTS NETWORK HANDOUT  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
Kameel Ahmady and his wife Shafaq Rahmani. EPA

He described the harsh conditions he had faced during a period of his detention when he was isolated from the outside world.

“There is no natural light, and a window in the prison door opens through which they put your food. That is your only communication with the outside world. It is incredibly quiet, and you just become crazy. You don’t know what time it is, and you don’t know what will happen next,” he said.

“When you are taken out to go to the toilet, or half an hour’s fresh air or to be interrogated, you are blindfolded. And then your interrogation becomes your lifeline, it’s so sad that you want to be interrogated more because that is the only way you can communicate with a fellow human being.

“They were trying very hard to portray me as someone sent off to Iran by the British, recruited by foreign powers to try to influence certain people in the government.”

Mr Ahmady is one of many dual citizens detained by Iran on charges that campaigners and governments say are politically motivated and unfounded.