Academic escapes Iran after jail for visit to Israel and gay support

"It was very cold, very long, very dark and very scary."

A prison guard stands along a corridor in Tehran's Evin prison June 13, 2006.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
A prison guard stands along a corridor in Tehran's Evin prison June 13, 2006.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The British-Iranian anthropologist Kameel Ahmady said on Wednesday that he escaped from the Islamic Republic of Iran, where he had been sentenced to a nine year prison term for his visit to Israel among other allegations.
"My chief interrogator said, 'You're very delicious,' a) because I was Kurdish; b) I was coming from a Sunni religious background as opposed with the majority of the Shia in Iran; and c) I was a researcher who was digging up sensitive issues. And I wasn't only a simple researcher, I was actually acting on my research and using it for awareness raising," Kameel Ahmady told the BBC.
Sixteen Iranian Revolutionary Guards arrested Ahmady in 2019 and he was sent to the infamous Evin prison. According to Ahmady, he was arrested because he is a dual national and Tehran sought to retaliate against the British government after it confiscated an Iranian oil tanker believed to be involved in busting EU sanctions.
"Being a dual national, you are always a potential case," Ahmady told the BBC.
After he was sentenced to a prison term of more than nine years and issued and is a fine of 683,000, he decided to flee the Islamic Republic while out on bail.
He told BBC "The appeal was overturned. That was the moment that I decided to escape because I couldn't see myself staying in prison for 10 years and watching my son from a distance growing up. By the time I would have been released - if I was released - my son would have been 15."
He continued "I just simply left. I packed my bag with a shaving kit, a few books of mine, and a laptop. 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."
Regarding his incarceration he said that “don't underestimate the concept and the seriousness of so-called 'white torture' - the psychological pressure they put on you. And all these games are played stage by stage, and they're very well trained as to how to put a little bit of extra pressure on you when it's needed."
Ahmady’s anthropological work centered on child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) in Iran raised eyebrows in the highly repressive theocratic state. He proposed the marriage age for Iranian girls be raised from 13 to a higher age.
The Iranian authorities charged Ahmady with promoting homosexuality in his academic research. Iran’s regime has executed between 4,000-6,000 gays and lesbians since its 1979 Islamic Revolution, according to a 2008 British WikiLeaks cable.
The Iranian regime’s foreign minister Mohammed Zarif defended his regime’s executions of gays in 2019.
Ahmady was born in the Kurdish city of Mahabad in Iran’s West Azerbaijan Province. According to the Center for Human Rights in Iran, “His research has focused on politically sensitive issues including child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM), topics on which he has published books. In 2017, he also produced a documentary about FGM in northwestern Iran.”