New Zealand couple trapped in Iran leave ‘safe and well’

Travel bloggers Topher Richwhite and Bridget Thackwray, who disappeared from public view for almost four months after entering Iran in July, have now safely left the country. (Photo: Twitter)
WELLINGTON — Two travel bloggers from New Zealand who disappeared from public view for almost four months after entering Iran have now safely left the country, officials in Wellington said on Wednesday.اضافة اعلان

Bridget Thackwray and her newlywed husband Topher Richwhite, the son of one of New Zealand’s richest men, entered Iran from Turkey in early July.

Their social media feeds — usually filled with glamorous shots of exotic locations — fell silent soon after, prompting concern from fans, friends, and family.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Wednesday revealed that the government had been “working hard” for several months to “ensure the safe” exit of the couple, who had endured “difficult circumstances”.

“I am aware of just how incredibly difficult it has been for them and their family over these past few months,” she said. “I am delighted they are safe.”

The circumstances of their time in Iran are not yet clear — Iranian officials told AFP that the couple had not been detained or arrested.

Westerners are frequently taken into custody by Iran’s hard-line government, which has been at loggerheads with the United States and its allies since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Detainees have been released after intensive behind-the-scenes negotiations, which have been known to involve prisoner swaps, leading to accusations that Tehran is engaged in “hostage diplomacy”.

‘Something was wrong’In a July video post that was later removed from social media sites, Richwhite said the couple had been stopped at the border, their 4x4 vehicle had been inspected, and they had been instructed how to dress and behave in a tense meeting with guards.

Canada-based fan Chris Los, a retired teacher, said the couple’s GPS tracker then stopped in the same place for several days.

“They never stay in the same place in the middle of nowhere for this long,” Los told AFP. “Because they share photos and video so openly and often, it was obvious to me that something was wrong.”

Concerned posts on their Facebook and Instagram feeds went unanswered.

Little public comment was made until Kylie Moore-Gilbert, an Australian who spent more than 800 days in Iranian jails before being released, reported that the couple were missing.

“Iran has arrested more than a dozen foreigners in the past 6 months alone. ‘Quiet diplomacy’ never works to the detainee’s advantage in such cases,” she said.

A New Zealand official told AFP the couple, having left Iran, were now “safe and well”.

Their disappearance echoes the fate of British-Australian travel bloggers who were held in Iran in 2019 on suspicion of spying and circumventing sanctions, but who were later released.

At the same time Australia halted the extradition of Reza Dehbashi to the United States.

A PhD student at the University of Queensland, Dehbashi had been detained on allegations of “attempting to purchase and transfer advanced American military radar equipment via Dubai to Iran”.

Ardern did not provide details of the negotiations with Iran’s government and said she had not shied away from criticising the recent bloody crackdown on young protestors — many of them women objecting to strict Islamic law and authoritarian governance.

“Of course, we have shared our condemnation at the same time we have also had a duty of care to ensure that those New Zealanders were able to exit Iran,” Ardern said. “We have worked hard to do both: to ensure their safety but also to place our values on record on what is happening in Iran.”

Iran has repeatedly accused outside forces of stirring up the protests, and in late September the country announced that nine foreign nationals — including some from France, Germany, Italy, Poland and the Netherlands — had been arrested.

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