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Page last updated at 09:36 GMT, Monday, 11 April 2011 10:36 UK
Voices from inside Iran's protest crackdown

Protester in Tehran in June 2009
Young Iranians played a key role in the Green Movement protests in 2009

Panorama's Jane Corbin travelled to Kayseri in central Turkey to meet some of the young people who have fled Iran amid what they describe as a brutal crackdown on opposition voices.

They are just four of the thousands of Iranians who have fled since the disputed election of June 2009 that returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power, triggering first a wave of peaceful protests by the Green Movement - and then the wave of arrests and repression.

Inside Iran, the move to silence dissent has intensified in recent months as the unrest across the Middle East began to make the regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, ever more nervous.

As elsewhere, it is Iran's youth that took to the streets to demand change.

Souroush is a young musician whose controversial rap and video that called for change in Iran served as a rallying cry for the opposition Green Movement.

He was arrested after the election and beaten continuously in between bouts in solitary confinement.

When we met, he produced photographs showing his body covered in large red welts that were taken shortly after he escaped.

I will never feel safe back home - I'd only go back if I wanted to commit suicide
Neda, Iranian refugee

That, he assured me, was not the worst of his torture.

"When I was taken the first time for a mock execution, the interrogator asked me to write my will," Souroush said, re-living the mental anguish of being taken out of his cell into a room with a noose hanging from the ceiling.

"I said I don't have anything to write - just kill me so I don't have to suffer any more."

Penniless refugees

After a month in a 10 foot square underground cell, Souroush's family managed to bribe someone in the security services and he was allowed to escape as he was being transferred between prisons.

He then paid people smugglers $15,000 to take him and his wife over the mountains on mules and across the border into Turkey where they have been living in poverty ever since.

Neda and Farhang met at university in Iran and had a bright future ahead of them.

Today they are penniless refugees haunted by the seemingly random brutality which Neda, a fragile 31-year-old, has suffered.

Neda had been a university student in Iran before she fled

She was not an activist, but Farhang was one of the many students who protested after the election.

He was arrested, released on bail and fled to Turkey, leaving Neda behind.

Two months later she was abducted on her way home from college and taken to a basement where she was blindfolded and beaten by three men.

"All their questions were about Farhang - where he was, how he got to Turkey," Neda told me.

"I'm sure they had listened to our phone calls and they were obviously from the government," she said.

She was taken to a room with a bed and dirty sheets and raped by the men while being filmed.

She was later dumped her on a road miles from home and is still receiving medical treatment for her injuries.

"I was really damaged - I thought I would never see Farhang again," she said. It took her weeks to find the courage to contact Farhang and tell him what had happened.

For Neda and Farhang, the psychological scars are even worse given the conservative society they come from, with its deep sexual taboos.

"My whole world fell apart when I heard," Farhang said. "But it would not be right to turn my back on her despite the social stigma - to just consider what people would think of us."

Farhang has stood by her and Neda escaped from Iran to join him.

Rape as weapon

Human rights organisations report that rape has been used as a weapon against both women and men in Iran.

Also in Kayseri, I met Farrokh, a teacher and campaigner and one of the few people in Iran prepared to admit he is gay.

Panorama logo
Jane Corbin presents Panorama: Living with the Ayatollah
BBC One, Monday, 11 April

It is against the law in Iran, punishable by prison or even death.

Farrokh was arrested for putting up posters of a women killed by the security forces during the protests after the election. He was arrested and accused of being a terrorist. Then he was raped.

"They want to give the feeling that people are absolutely helpless because that is the feeling you get when you are being raped," he said. "It destroys you in many ways."

Farrokh is living in exile, and both frightened and depressed - although he was released after the rape, he was then denounced for being gay and fled from Iran in fear of his life.

A recent UN report on human rights abuses in Iran reveals that the country has the highest execution rate of anywhere in the world except China.

In total, 66 people, some of them political prisoners are reported to have been executed in one month alone this year, according to human rights organisations.

'Lost everything'

The Iranian government denies the allegations of abuse of human rights, saying they have their own laws which they abide by and that the accusations levelled at them by refugees amount to western propaganda.

And while we were not able to independently verify the stories we were told when we met these young Iranians, all have had their accounts of abuse accepted by the UN and they have now been offered refugee status.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election was heavily disputed

For Farrokh that means moving to America, as are Souroush and his wife - although they hope it will not be forever.

"We had everything in Iran and lost it in the blink of an eye," said Souroush. "We just hope for a better future - maybe even one day the chance to return."

Neda and Farhang do not yet know where they will end up living, but as we parted company at the bleak bus station in Kayseri, Neda said going home will never be possible.

"I don't have anything in Iran now but bad memories," she said softly. "I will never feel safe back home - I'd only go back if I wanted to commit suicide."

Panorama: Living with the Ayatollah, BBC One, Monday, 11 April at 2030BST and then available in the UK on the BBC iPlayer.

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