UK-Iranian academic charged with visiting Israel says he fled Iran while on bail

Kameel Ahmady, also accused of promoting homosexuality, describes escape across mountain border after being sentenced to 9 years in jail

British-Iranian anthropologist Kameel Ahmady was held in Iran for three months before being released on bail on November 21, 2019. (Facebook)
British-Iranian anthropologist Kameel Ahmady was held in Iran for three months before being released on bail on November 21, 2019. (Facebook)

A British-Iranian academic said Wednesday that he had fled Iran across a mountain border after being sentenced to nine years in jail for collaborating with a hostile government.

Kameel Ahmady, a social anthropologist studying female genital mutilation and child marriage in Iran, told the BBC and The Guardian newspaper that he escaped while on bail after being sentenced, as he feared he would not see his young son again.

“I just simply left. I packed my bag with shaving kit, a few books of mine and a laptop and I think pajamas… and warm clothes,” he told BBC radio.

After being detained for suspected links with foreign intelligence services, he spent three months in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where he said he was subjected to “so-called white torture, a psychological pressure they put on you.”

Ahmady was then released on bail and later sentenced in December last year and fined 600,000 euros ($722,000) for receiving “illegitimate funds” and working on projects with “subversive institutions,” Iran’s Tasnim news agency reported.

British media reported that he escaped while on bail pending his appeal.

He described the journey to the BBC as “very cold, very long, very dark and very scary.”

A December report said Ahmady was sentenced by Iran’s Revolutionary Court on charges of cooperation with European embassies in support of promoting homosexuality, visiting Israel as a reporter for the BBC, cooperation and communication with foreign and hostile media, infiltration aimed at changing the law, and sending false reports about the country to the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Iran.

Travel to Israel and homosexuality are both illegal in Iran. Offenders can face up to five years in prison for visiting Israel. Homosexuals can face the death penalty if they commit sexual intercourse, although there have been no reports of capital punishment for homosexuality in recent years.

Ahmady is now living in London with his wife and son, British media reported, and his appeal was thrown out in his absence on Monday.

He told The Guardian he did not know whether Iranian authorities were aware of his escape.

He said he took the paths used by smugglers of goods from Iraq and Turkey, wading through deep snow and evading Iranian border patrols.

Ahmady told the BBC that as a dual-national and “a researcher who was digging up sensitive issues,” he was aware he faced being detained.

“I always knew that I am an attractive and potential asset,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that I have done anything wrong.”

His revelations came as British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is being held under house arrest in Iran after being jailed on sedition charges.

Her official sentence is due to end next month. Her family said the UK government warned them not to publicize this to avoid jeopardizing her release.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was an employee at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency.

An undated file photo provided by the family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national detained in Iran. (Family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe via AP, File)

Iran has in recent years repeatedly detained foreigners and dual nationals on charges campaigners and governments say are unfounded.

Prisoners have only been released after months and sometimes even years of painstaking negotiation.

Their cases come amid heightened tensions between Iran and the West over its nuclear program.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken would not commit to demanding the release of US nationals held by Iran in an interview this week.

Ahmady’s arrest in 2019 came after British marines seized an Iranian tanker suspected of taking oil to Syria. He said he suspected his arrest was linked, according to the BBC.

The academic is the author of a book in English titled “In the Name of Tradition: Female Genital Mutilation in Iran.”

He also campaigned to raise Iran’s marriage age of 13.

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