British academic facing jail in Iran makes daring escape to UK

A British-Iranian academic who was sentenced to jail in Tehran after being accused of “working for a hostile government” has fled the country while on bail and is now living in London.

Kameel Ahmady, an anthropologist who studied female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage in Iran, was given a nine-year sentence and had been held in the notorious Evin prison before being placed under house arrest.

Mr Ahmady told Channel 4 News he escaped Iran while awaiting a court appearance and described the harrowing experiences he suffered while serving 100 days in solitary confinement in Evin prison, which has previously held Iranian-British dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Describing the conditions in an interview to be broadcast on Wednesday evening, he told the broadcaster: “You are blindfolded at all times, even in the first or second week of your interrogation, and then finally they will ease it down a little bit.

“You are basically pushed into a room and then you hear the guards are closing or locking the door, and then someone will tell you behind the door that you can lift your blindfold. So, when you lift it up, I saw a small room – it was almost like a grave – and you can’t walk on it, you can’t do anything apart from either sitting down or standing up or lying down.”

He said the limited human interaction, which amounted to a hand pushing food or water into his cell, meant he yearned to be taken out for interrogation, and described the questioning as “the only entertainment that you have” and “the only lifeline”.

He added: “You don’t want to go to your cell because you’re terrified and there’s all this phobia, don’t want to go back over there. It comes to a point you start shouting, your heart begins to pound and there’s so much phobia of this little place that you feel there is no oxygen, there is no air to breathe.

“It’s not one day, it’s not two days, it’s not one week, it’s not one month. It goes on and on and on and you become mentally disabled, insensitive to your environment.

“And even when they take you for your half an hour of fresh air, you’re still blindfolded. You don’t see anything. You hear certain things, the wind is flowing, birds are singing and then you don’t see any other human beings. No human contact. That’s what the solitary confinement is.”

Speaking about his decision to flee the country after being sentenced to nine years in prison, Mr Ahmady said: “I went to court. Again, I had this understanding the judge had no power over the security services and a few weeks later I received nine years and three months.

“With a simple calculation I just realised my son would be near to 15 years old. Where was I in these 10 years? In Evin. He would have just been a boy coming to see me for half an hour every two weeks, over the phone, no emotional connection whatsoever.

“Taking all this into account, I come to this decision that I would really need to go, even though it would be very dangerous for me to act on it, and if I fail it would be even worse. But then I made a decision and I escaped.”

He described his return to the UK as being like “coming back home to my other home” after having been “forced out of a place that I thought I could make a difference”.

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