Refugee tells of torture and how he risked his life in refrigerated lorry

Newly-engaged Saman was looking forward to planning his future with his wife-to-be.

But instead he found himself cowering in a darkened cell as he was tortured for information he did not know and fleeing to a country far from home because he was wrongly accused of plotting against the Iranian government.

Because of his arrest, he was forced to legalise his marriage while he was behind bars instead of celebrating with the wedding the couple had envisaged.

Now 35, Saman has been granted asylum in the UK and is trying to rebuild his life after being reunited with his wife after eight years.

The pair, who are living in Birmingham while learning English and job-hunting, are hoping to start a family.

Refugee rebuilding life after fleeing torture
Saman and his wife are settled in Birmingham and hope to start a family (Jacob King/PA)

Although bravely deciding to speak about his ordeal publicly for the first time, he is using an alias as he still fears for the safety of his family who remain in Iran.

Speaking exclusively to the PA news agency, Saman told how, in 2010, he was working as a driver for two businessmen who were developers in Iran.

He would courier documents and supplies for them but was kidnapped by armed men who blindfolded him and bundled him into the back of a van.

Saman said he was held in a cell for more than 100 days while agents he described as the equivalent of Iran’s security services tortured him, demanding information on his employers – who were suspected of being political activists.

No-one knew where he was or what had happened to him.

Saman said: “They wanted to know what act they were planning against the government.

“I didn’t know what they were talking about and was unable to provide them with any information.”

As a result, he said, he was “constantly tortured”, even though he begged them to stop.

He said he was beaten, burned with cigarettes, told his family had been threatened and was force-fed pills to make him urinate but tied up to prevent him from doing so.

“After seven years I still can’t control myself because of that. I am better but I still have a problem. It was very bad. It was horrible,” he said.

A judge sentenced him to death after he was charged and convicted of “acting against national security, war against the god and bringing corruption upon planet earth”.

He denied the allegations and said he was refused access to his lawyer during the court hearing.

While in jail awaiting execution, his family pleaded with the government and religious leaders for leniency and the sentence was reduced to life in prison, Saman said.

Six years later he was granted temporary licence while recovering from a chest infection after his family put up the equivalent of a £100,000 bond.

During this time they sold their home to pay £14,000 to Afghan, Kurdish and Pakistani smugglers to help him flee the country, he said.

He went into hiding in the capital, Tehran, before joining some 50 other migrants as they scrambled on foot for 12 hours over the mountain border with Turkey while dodging police gunfire, Saman said.

Only six people made it across, the rest were arrested.

After travelling to Edirne in north-west Turkey and Istanbul, they spent four months being led by smugglers across borders, hiding in derelict buildings and farms, and stowing away in the back of three lorries under cargo like logs and wood.

When they were discovered by Greek police, the smugglers said “Don’t worry, they will let us go”. Their fingerprints were taken and they were released, Saman said.

He said they hid inside an abandoned house in Greece for two months and were forbidden from going outside while they waited for their next mode of transport.

Each time they were hidden in the back of a lorry, concealed under cargo for up to 24 hours with only a biscuit, a sip of water and a plastic bottle for a toilet each.

The smugglers only told them they were going “somewhere safe”, Saman said.

On the final part of the voyage, he feared he would never make it to safety as he slowly became starved of oxygen in a locked refrigerated container while others collapsed around him before being rescued by emergency services in the UK.

Saman has developed a love of tea as it symbolises his safe arrival in the UK and now drinks up to 12 cups a day.

He said: “When I was in prison in my country I asked them ‘Give me a little bit water’, they hit me.

“Now I’m here in another country, they don’t know who I am and I ask ‘Please give me a cup of tea’ and they say ‘Yes, of course, don’t worry’.”

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