Having faced torture in jails and threatened with death, Behzad, Siyavash and Ali have managed to seek refuge in Turkey, yet they are unable to shake off the fear of Tehran.
While fellow opposition activists are preparing to hold protests in Iran at the anniversary of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election on June 12, 2009, Behzad (not his real name) leads a secluded life in a shabby flat in Nevsehir, central Turkey.
Advertisement"The tortures that I went through and those that I witnessed -- an animal would not do that to another animal," said the young man. His only fault, he said, was to have participated in a student protest challenging the election results last year.
Showing pictures of his back scarred by bruises after a four-month stint in prison, Behzad lists the horrors to which he was subjected: beating, sexual abuse, forced insomnia, cold water dousing and the terror of standing blindfolded in what turned out to be a mock execution.
"After a while, I would have confessed anything, I could not stand it anymore," he said. "They wanted confessions about my father, that he had ties with America and Israel ... And they forced me to say so."
The confessions secured his freedom. Several weeks later, Behzad sneaked into neighbouring Turkey, crossing the mountainous border on horseback, in the company of smugglers, like many Iranian exiles.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), some 4,000 Iranian asylum seekers and refugees -- political dissidents but also converts to Christianity, homosexuals and followers of the minority Bahai faith -- are registered in Turkey, their main exit route.
The applicants' numbers since last year's presidential polls -- standing at 1,828 between July and March -- does not represent a significant increase. But their profile has changed, according to the UNHCR.
"Many of the newcomers are journalists, academics and/or perceived by the regime to be supporting the opposition," said Metin Corabatir, the organisation's spokesman in Turkey.
Stuck in Nevsehir, one of the 32 Turkish cities accommodating asylum seekers, Behzad is waiting for the UN to decide his fate and arrange a Western country to accept him.
Handicapped with a stiff leg -- the result of a blow from a police truncheon during a demonstration -- and suffering psychological problems, he lives in poverty.
But his main problem is the fear.
"Here, I am afraid of everything: the police, Iranian agents and all Iranians here -- I fear they will make reports on me. Sometimes I am even scared to go out," he said.
For him, the presence of Iranian agents pursuing dissidents is beyond doubt: in late November, he recounted, an Iranian refugee arrived in Nevsehir and disappeared the following day, leaving behind only unpacked suitcases.
Behzad's friend, Siyavash, also speaks of a strong sense of insecurity as he shows burns from electric shock on his thighs after several months in an Iranian jail.
"One night, about midnight, three drunk men tried to break the door of my building, shouting. Fortunately, my Turkish neighbours downstairs intervened," he said.
Facing the death sentence for alleged blasphemy, Ali managed to flee to Turkey in September, before he was convicted. Eager to speak out on what he was forced to keep silent in Iran, the young dissident says he has already been threatened.
Following a meeting with a journalist, "I was stopped by three Iranians on a deserted street at midnight. They held a knife to my throat and told me it was my last interview," he recounted.
Questioned by AFP, local police said they advised Iranian refugees against speaking to the media to avoid the risk of reprisals.
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