Kameel Ahmady is a British-Iranian dual national who was unjustly imprisoned in Iran’s Evin Prison and sentenced to over nine years in jail in Iran. Ahmady had been released on temporary bail when he managed to escape the country by walking on foot across the Iranian mountains to reach safety.
Ahmady, an anthropologist specialising in child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) in Iran, was convicted in November on charges of collaborating with a “hostile state power.” After being sentenced to nine years and three months in prison and fined for more than half a million pounds, Ahmady was released on bail pending an appeal.
It is likely Ahmady was targeted and detained by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) as a result of his work – a view he shares. His research had exposed the extent of female genital mutilation in Iran and he was also campaigning for raising the marriage age for girls in Iran, currently set at thirteen years old.
His detention may have also been prompted by Britain’s role in July 2019 when UK commandos seized an Iranian oil tanker, suspected of carrying oil to Syria, as it passed through the Gibraltar straits.
Today (Wednesday 3 February 2021), it was revealed that the academic had successfully escaped the country on foot over the country’s perilous mountainous border finally returning to safety in the UK.
Speaking to the Guardian, Kameel explained how escape had seemed the only resolution to his terrible ordeal – which included nearly 100 days of pre-trial detention in the notorious Evin prison and spells in solitary confinement whilst being interrogated.
Mr. Ahmady told Patrick Wintour, Diplomatic editor of the Guardian:
“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,”
Kameel Ahmady rightly noted that Iranian courts nearly always confirm the first judgement, and the judiciary is presided over by those with political motivations.
These fears were borne out in absentia, with the court rejecting his appeal in his absence on Monday 1 February 2021.
On balance, Kameel concluded that his potential freedom warranted the risks, with full knowledge that getting caught would have certainly resulted in an increased sentence. Mr. Ahmady said:
“I smuggled myself out of Iran out of despair…I felt I had no other choice or option to leave. I was banned from travelling. I had this bounty and this sentence.”
One can not begrudge Kameel his fears, in February 2018, a well-known Iranian-Canadian professor called Kavous Seyed Emami, died in prison in Tehran. Numerous other dual nationals detained in the country have reported being tortured, harassed and generally maltreated while being detained on bogus charges.
This British-Iranian academic jailed in Iran escaped to the UK.
Kameel Ahmady spent 100 days in solitary confinement before being released on bail when he “made a decision and escaped” to Britain. pic.twitter.com/YNRXUI8wjM
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) February 3, 2021
Kameel, now safely living in London, was just one of at least thirteen dual nationals currently detained by the Iranian regime. Tehran has long favoured a tactic of hostage diplomacy in their foreign policy – whereby they arbitrarily detain citizens of other states in an attempt to gain leverage over them in future negotiations.
It remains to be seen how those in Tehran will react to the escape of Ahmady, and the implications it might have on those still detained in Iran. There was no obvious backlash following the escape of Iranian-Canadian permanent resident Saeed Malekpour in August 2019. This is not to say that repercussions might have been dealt behind closed doors.
As Iran continues to play hostage diplomacy by arbitrarily detaining dual nationals, there is the increased risk that those few prisoners who are currently on furlough due to the coronavirus running rampant through prisons may face repercussions and be returned to prison if the Iranian authorities see them as a flight risk.
The International Observatory of Human Rights welcomes the news of Kameel’s freedom and once again urges Iran to unconditionally release all arbitrarily detained dual nationals.
Want to find out more about hostage diplomacy? Watch IOHR’s documentary below: