This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
A British-Iranian anthropologist who faced years in prison in Iran says he escaped the country on foot across a mountain border and made his way back to the United Kingdom.
Kameel Ahmady told British media on February 3 that he had escaped while on bail pending an appeal against his prison sentence.
“I just simply left. I packed my bag with a shaving kit, a few books of mine, and a laptop,” Ahmady told the BBC, adding: “And warm clothes, because I knew I had to smuggle myself out of that train in the mountains. It was very cold, very long, very dark, and very scary.”
He told The Guardian he took paths used by smugglers from Iraq and Turkey, wading through deep snow 1.5 meters deep and fog while evading Iranian border patrols.
Ahmady was sentenced in December 2020 to more than nine years in prison for allegedly collaborating with a hostile government — a charge he denies – and ordered to pay a fine equivalent to $722,000.
The academic was arrested at his home in Tehran in August 2019 and spent three months in Tehran’s Evin prison, where he said he was subjected to “so-called white torture, a psychological pressure they put on you.”
The academic was then released on bail before his sentencing by a Revolutionary Court.
Ahmady is an ethnic Kurd whose research touched on sensitive issues such as child marriage, female genital mutilation, minorities, gender, and temporary marriages practiced in Shi’ite Islam.
His parents sent him to Britain when he was 18. He studied at the University of Kent and the London School of Economics, and applied for British citizenship before returning to Iran.
Ahmady told the BBC that he had been targeted not just because he was a dual national, but also because Iran wanted to retaliate after Britain in 2019 seized an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar that was suspected of breaking EU sanctions.
“I always knew that I am an attractive and potential asset,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that I have done anything wrong.”
Iran has repeatedly detained foreigners and dual nationals in recent years on charges human rights activists and governments say are unfounded.