By Mick Krever, CNN
Thor Halvorssen started with an idea: “We need to get him out.”
The target: Bahraini activist Ali Abdulemam, who for years had been in and out of government detention for his reform-agitating website.
Halvorssen, founder of the Oslo Freedom Forum, realized that the only way to get Abdulemam out alive would be to smuggle him.
“It wasn’t so much as having one plan, as it was having a plan that would have many, many options built in,” Halvorssen told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.
He and his team consulted a member of the Danish Special Forces, he said.
Their original plan bears a striking resemblance to the Oscar-lauded political thriller Argo: Send an entourage of celebrity entertainers to Bahrain, get Abdulemam into the mix, and sneak him out on a private jet.
When it came down to the wire, the plan wasn’t needed.
Last week, Abdulemam was given a “now-or-never proposition” by someone in Bahrain. He got into a secret compartment in a car and was driven across the causeway that connects his tiny island nation to Saudi Arabia.
He was, of course, still far from freedom.
When Arab Spring protests first broke out in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia sent a huge convoy of tanks across the causeway to help stifle the dissent – more than two years later, the Bahraini government is still in power, having implemented few meaningful reforms.
So Abdulemam found himself in an unfriendly country, thousands of miles from his sponsors in Europe.
From Saudi Arabia, he snuck into Kuwait, from which he was smuggled by fishermen into Iraq. There, he took two flights to Baghdad and finally, last week, made it to London.
“You will not imagine how important … freedom [is], until you miss it,” he told Amanpour in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.
His captors in Bahrain, he said, were merciless.
“I cannot call them a human; they are savage,” he said. “They were enjoying torturing us.”
The prosecutors, he said, forced him and his fellow detainees to sign confessions, shouting down any attempt to explain themselves.
“Looking from abroad,” Halvorssen said of the political situation in Bahrain, “it’s very disappointing.”
Halvorssen said that many people he consults see it as a choice between “one set of crazy psychopaths over another set of secular psychopaths.”
It’s a false choice, he says.
“In either case, it’s not acceptable,” he told Amanpour. “We’d like to see non-violence lead to reform. And I think public exposure is absolutely crucial. And voices like Ali’s, who have not been heard of for a long time, are the sorts of voices of nonviolence that are absolutely crucial.”
Meanwhile, Abdulemam’s wife and children remain in Bahrain, subject to the will of the Bahraini government.
“I want to tell them that I love them,” Abdulemam said, “and I did what I did to escape from Bahrain just to reunite with them as soon as we can.”
In a response obtained by CNN, the Bahraini government said that Abdulemam's website has "repeatedly been used to incite hatred, including through the spreading of false and inflammatory rumors." You can read the full statement here.