A British-Iranian anthropologist facing almost a decade in an Iranian prison after speaking out against female genital mutilation and child marriage has made a daring escape. Kameel Ahmady tells the BBC he fled across Iran's mountainous border on foot upon learning his fate was as good as sealed. Ahmady, who was born in Iran and educated in the UK, had pushed to raise the legal age at which Iranian girls can marry from 13 before his arrest in 2019. He was accused of promoting homosexuality in his research and convicted of collaborating with a hostile government, based on claims that he'd once worked for a charity that received funding from the US. Ahmady denies the charges, which he believes was retribution for the British seizure of an Iranian oil tanker. Unwilling to permit himself to endure nine years and three months in prison, "I just simply left" while on bail.
Ahmady, who says he endured "psychological pressure" during three months in prison before his release, filled a bag with supplies as soon as he learned his appeal was being overturned. "I knew I had to smuggle myself out of that train in the mountains," he tells the BBC. He set off on a "very cold, very long, very dark, and very scary" trek over paths used to move contraband from Iraq and Turkey, working his way through 5 feet of snow. People have frozen to death on such routes, or been shot by border patrols. But "I felt I had no other choice," Ahmady tells the Guardian. "I couldn't see myself staying in prison for 10 years and watching my [4-year-old] son from a distance growing up," he adds, per the BBC. Now in London, Ahmady hopes to be a voice for change in Iran. "Nothing good ever came out of conflict and fanaticism," he tells the Guardian. "I say that from personal experience." (Read more escape stories.)