The fate of a Spanish man who was trekking from Madrid to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, and reportedly went missing in Iran is still uncertain, with strong suggestions that he is being held in an Iranian detention centre.
Santiago Sánchez, 41, an experienced trekker and avid football fan, has spend the last nine months hiking through 15 countries, while documenting his journey on Instagram.
However, his family have not heard from him for over three weeks, raising fears about his fate.
On Wednesday his mother, Celia Cogedor, told The Associated Press that they had learnt from the Spanish foreign ministry that there’s “a 99% chance he (has been) arrested”.
“We are filled with hope,” she added.
According to the activist HRANA news agency, Sánchez was arrested by Iranian security forces during the nationwide protests.
Mass civil unrest
Sánchez is being held at a detention centre run by the Ministry of Intelligence in the Kurdish city of Sanandaj, the Kurdistan Human Rights Network told The National newspaper.
According to the rights group, he spoke briefly to two other inmates in neighbouring cells, who have since been released, and told them he was a Spanish citizen who had been arrested by security forces.
The Spanish foreign ministry said in a statement that the country’s embassy in Tehran is in touch with Iranian authorities about Sánchez, but declined to give further details.
Iran is currently engulfed in mass civil unrest, triggered by the death of Mahsa Amin, who was taken into custody by Iran’s morality police for allegedly not adhering to the country’s strict Islamic dress code.
This has raised fears about Sánchez, who last contacted his family in Spain on October 2, a day after he crossed the Iraq-Iran border. He had warned his family that communication might be difficult in Iran.
A Kurdish group called the Hengaw Organisation for Human Rights reported that Sánchez was taken away by Iranian security forces after visiting the grave of Amini, whose death in police custody sparked the current anti-government protest movement.
The group, citing anonymous sources, said that Iranian intelligence agents arrested him in Saqez, Amini’s hometown.
Cracking down on protesters
Tehran has violently cracked down on protesters and blamed foreign enemies and Kurdish groups in Iraq for fomenting the unrest, without offering evidence. The Iranian Intelligence Ministry said authorities had arrested nine foreigners, mostly Europeans, over their alleged links to the protests.
The Kurdish group is based just across the border in Iraqi Kurdistan but has reliable connections in northwest Iran.
Neither Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor its mission to the United Nations responded to requests for comment.
Sánchez was believed to be heading to Tehran when he disappeared, with his final destination in Iran the southern port of Bandar Abbas, where he would hop on a boat to Qatar.
His parents reported him missing on October 17.
In 2019 Sánchez cycled a similar route to get from Madrid to Saudi Arabia, with his parents saying they are proud of his adventurous spirit.