Iran arrests Spanish man walking to Qatar World Cup

Santiago Sanchez is being held at a detention centre in Sanandaj, rights group says

Santiago Sanchez, right, posed with his sister Natalia in this family photo from 2005. AP
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A Spanish man who went missing after entering Iran while travelling on foot to Qatar for the World Cup has been arrested, a rights group said.

Santiago Sanchez 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.

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 rights group said.

While KHRN did not have details of Mr Sanchez's arrest, rights group Hengaw alleged he was arrested in the Kurdish city of Saqqez, the home town of Mahsa Amini, whose death in the hands of Iran's morality police has led to the fiercest protests in decades.

Mr Sanchez was arrested three weeks ago after visiting Amini's grave, a source told Hengaw.

“We learnt this morning from the foreign ministry that there’s a 99 per cent chance he [has been] arrested,” his mother Celia Cogedor told AP on Wednesday.

His sister is due to meet officials at the Spanish foreign ministry in Madrid on Thursday to learn further details.

The foreign ministry said in a statement that the Spanish embassy in Tehran is in touch with Iranian authorities about Mr Sanchez.

The detention comes at a time when anti-regime protests — which began when Amini, 22, died on September 16 — are continuing across Iran.

At least 234 people have since been killed, including 29 children, according to the Oslo-based Iran Organisation for Human Rights.

Protests are expected to intensify on Wednesday, which marks 40 days since Amini's death and the end of the traditional mourning period in Iran.

Mr Sanchez, a former paratrooper, has not been heard from in three weeks, his family said on Monday.

He was last seen in Iraq after hiking through 15 countries on his way to the World Cup in Qatar, but his social media posts stopped on October 1, the day he entered Iran.

Santiago Sanchez in an undated family photo. AP

He is believed to have been headed for Marivan, in Iran's Kurdistan province, where a family had offered to host him, and then on to Tehran and the southern port city of Bandar Abbas.

His family say he had previously visited Iran in 2019, when he cycled from Madrid to Saudi Arabia.

Several foreigners have been detained since the start of the protests, including two French citizens that Tehran has accused of spying.

Espionage is a common accusation thrown at dual and foreign citizens visiting the country. Iran has arrested visitors in droves since the collapse of the nuclear deal in an attempt to gain international leverage.

Many are held at Tehran's notorious Evin prison, which was the site of a deadly fire on October 15.

Sources from inside the prison, notorious for its gross human rights offences, said the fire was started by authorities' unlawful use of force against prisoners, with shooting recorded more than an hour before the fire allegedly began.

Updated: October 26, 2022, 1:00 PM