Student activist Ali Kanturi has jumped bail and fled Iran after a two-year struggle against his country’s legal system.
Last month he learned that he had been sentenced to 15 years in jail after being found guilty of abduction and extortion. His lawyer describes the charges as “astonishing” and Kanturi says he is innocent.
He had already been given a 32-month jail term for the lesser charge of acting against national security. The BBC’s Persian language service caught up with Kanturi the day after he reached the city of Van, in eastern Turkey.
When my lawyer told me I’d been sentenced to 15 years in jail, my head began to swim. Then my family rang saying the order to carry out the other court decision [the 32-month term] had also arrived.
So, it suddenly became clear they were going to imprison me for both sentences. I realised I should leave. With the charges they’d brought against me, I had no other option.
I fled across the border to Turkey.
I can’t tell you all the details of my escape, but what I can say is that a man whose number I’d been given met me in Urmia, an Iranian city near the Turkish border.
He took charge of me and four others whose language I didn’t understand. Apparently they were Bangladeshis.
We approached the border and stayed in a border village for three days. Then we crossed over and spent three more days on the Turkish side of the border.
We spent the week in very difficult conditions in rough, mountainous terrain. Then, I came here to the city of Van in eastern Turkey.
Arrest and beatings
It all started two years ago. I think I was first arrested on 12 January 2008. They took me to Chubindar prison in Qazvin province [west of Tehran] and from there to a detention centre.
It was like I’d been taken to the end of the world. I was charged with acting against national security.
In reality, I had been involved with a student group campaigning for social and civil rights.
I had also started a non-governmental organisation in Qazvin to campaign against drug addiction.
After a few days in the detention centre, the situation got even worse.
They made further allegations against me that I’m too ashamed to mention, accompanied by a range of medieval tortures: beatings and confining me in a tiny cell.
They put me under such pressure that I finally signed a confession. That was the worst part of it.
Finally I was sentenced to 15 years in prison for alleged abduction and extortion, separate to the 32 months for my supposed actions against the state.
I have managed to escape with my life. I’ve only just got to Turkey, so I have no specific plans for the future.
The most important thing for me is to stay safe. I think I will introduce myself to the legal authorities to find out what I should do next.
But in view of the problems I’ve heard from other people, who have received unwelcome calls from Iran, I don’t feel very safe even here.