Iran Frees Man Arrested While Walking to World Cup

Santiago Sanchez was arrested in Iran on his way to Qatar
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 26, 2022 2:27 PM CDT
Updated Jan 1, 2024 6:30 AM CST
Man Walking From Spain to World Cup Vanished in Iran
In this undated photo, Santiago Sanchez Cogedor smiles in a family photo.   (Sanchez Cogedor family, via AP, File)
UPDATE Jan 1, 2024 6:30 AM CST

A Spanish soccer fan who was detained in Iran as he tried to make his way to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup has been released. In January of that year, Santiago Sanchez started traveling by foot from Madrid to Doha, documenting his journey on social media; he was arrested in October of 2022, reportedly after visiting Mahsa Amini's grave, the BBC reports. The Iranian Embassy announced Sunday that due to "friendly and historical relations" between Iran and Spain, he had been freed. "The embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is pleased to announce the release of Santiago Sanchez Cogedor, the only Spanish citizen detained in Iran," the embassy said, per Radio Free Europe.

Oct 26, 2022 2:27 PM CDT

A Spanish man trekking from Madrid to Doha for the 2022 FIFA World Cup is believed to be under arrest in Iran, where he went missing more than three weeks ago, his family said Wednesday. "We learned this morning from the (Spanish) foreign ministry that there's a 99% chance he (has been) arrested," Celia Cogedor, the mother of 41-year-old trekker Santiago Sanchez, told the AP. "We are filled with hope," she added. Sanchez and his translator are believed to be in a prison in Tehran, the Spaniard's parents said. Sanchez's sister is due to meet Thursday with officials at the Spanish Foreign Ministry in Madrid to learn further details.

Iran is being engulfed by mass unrest, triggering fears about Sanchez's fate after he stopped contacting his family in Spain on Oct. 2, a day after he crossed the Iraq-Iran border. He'd warned his family that communication might be difficult in Iran. A Kurdish group called the Hengaw Organization for Human Rights reported that Sanchez was taken away by Iranian security forces after visiting the grave of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old whose death in police custody sparked the current antigovernment protest movement. The group, citing anonymous sources, said that Iranian intelligence agents arrested him in Saqez, Amini's hometown.

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The Kurdish group is based just across the border in Iraqi Kurdistan but has reliable connections in northwest Iran. The Spanish adventurer planned to go to Tehran, the Iranian capital, where a television station wanted to interview him. His next step would have been Bandar Abbas, a port in southern Iran, where he planned to hop on a boat to Qatar. But all traces of him vanished even before he reached Tehran, his parents said. This was not Sanchez's first time in Iran. In 2019, the fervent soccer fan cycled a similar route to get from Madrid to Saudi Arabia. His parents say they're proud of his adventurous spirit and say his only aims are to help others and promote the Real Madrid soccer team.

(More Iran stories.)

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