The lawyer defending a woman sentenced to death by stoning in Iran said on Sunday that he has applied for asylum in Norway, but hopes Iranian authorities will allow him eventually to return to his practice.
Mohammad Mostafaei told reporters he chose to flee to Norway after obtaining a one-year Norwegian travel visa. He also cited the Nordic country's prominent human rights profile.
The 31-year-old said he fled to Turkey last week after learning Iranian officials intended to arrest him. He flew to Norway Saturday after being detained briefly in Turkey over an undisclosed passport issue.
Mostafaei maintained a blog that sparked a worldwide campaign to free his client, Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two, who was sentenced to death by stoning after she was found guilty of adultery.
Her sentence, which has sparked an outcry in Western countries, has been temporarily halted by judiciary chief Sadeq Larijani.
Mostafaie, who says he has rescued 18 of his 40 clients facing death sentences in Iran in recent years, has himself faced increasing pressure from the authorities in Tehran and says he was finally forced to flee after a warrant was issued for his arrest at the end of July.
He told the press conference Sunday that he did not think his departure would have a negative impact on Mohammadi-Ashtiani's case, since other lawyers were prepared to pick up where he had left off.
And "this will highlight Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani case even more," he said, adding that he did not think Tehran would dare to allow her stoning sentence to be carried out or to harm her physically in other ways.
While Mostafaei is applying for asylum, it's unclear whether he will stay in Norway. He said he hopes international pressure will force Tehran to let him return to his practice.
"My greatest hope is that I can go back and continue my work in Iran. If the Iranian authorities will ensure my rights and safety, I'll go back," Mostafaei said through an interpreter. "Right now, I've lost the ability to work on the behalf of my clients. That means I've lost everything. Without that, it doesn't matter whether I'm in heaven or hell."
Late last month, Mostafaei - an outspoken lawyer who also has defended many juvenile offenders and political prisoners - was summoned for questioning by judicial officials at Tehran's Evin prison, released after several hours, then asked to return, which he failed to do. The same day, his wife, Fereshteh Halimi, and her brother, Farhad Halimi, were detained in a possible attempt to pressure Mostafaei to surrender if he wasn't already detained.
The lawyer said he considered turning himself in, but ultimately decided against it because "my wife would never forgive me."
Mostafaei said a friend drove him last week from Tehran to Khoy, in northwestern Iran, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the Turkish border. From there he made his way, by foot and on horseback, into Turkey, he said.
Authorities released his wife Saturday afternoon, Mostafaei said. He said he hoped she and their 7-year-old daughter would join him in Norway soon. He acknowledged, however, that "might take some time because the government may try to prevent their departure."
He said once his wife arrives, they will decide together if and for how long they plan to stay in Norway.
"In a way you can say that I have asked for asylum," Mohammad Mostafaie told AFP on the sidelines of a press conference in Oslo shortly after arriving in Norway after fleeing his country by way of Turkey.
The human rights lawyer added that he wanted to wait with the actual asylum application until he had had a chance to discuss the matter with his wife in Iran "on a secure phone line."