Spanish football fan held in Tehran released, Iran says

Spanish football fan held in Tehran released, Iran says

TEHRAN : Iran’s embassy in Spain says it has released Santiago Sánchez: a Spanish football fan detained during a trek from Madrid to Qatar for the men’s 2022 football World Cup, and held in Tehran.

In a statement on X, the Iranian embassy said Mr Sánchez’s release came thanks to the two countries’ “friendly and historical relations”.

All contact from Mr Sánchez was lost as he neared the final leg of his trip.

He was detained after visiting Mahsa Amini’s grave, Spanish media report.

Ms Amini died in custody after being arrested by morality police in Tehran for allegedly wearing her hijab “improperly”.

Her death sparked a wave of protests in Iran and beyond in 2022 – and many Iranians continue to defy a deadly crackdown by security forces.

Prior to Mr Sánchez’s disappearance in October 2022, he shared each leg of his mammoth journey on social media.

A former paratrooper and passionate Real Madrid fan, he began the trip in January 2022, travelling across Europe, Turkey and Iraq – before being held in Iran for more than a year.

In a post on social media the day before he went silent, Mr Sánchez shared a series of photos with the caption: “Last village in northern Iraq, a mountain separates me from reaching Iran, the next country before reaching Qatar”.

At the time of Mr Sánchez’s detention, his friend Francho Salamanca told the BBC: “He has been arrested and he is now in a Tehran prison”.

He said his friend had been upbeat about travelling through Iran, and had done a similar journey to get to Saudi Arabia in 2019.

Mr Sánchez began – and then postponed – a hunger strike in detention in September, Spain’s ABC broadcaster reported. Relatives were quoted saying he postponed the protest after the prison director said he could see a doctor for his toothaches.

News of his whereabouts came after weeks of mounting concern from his family and friends.

In the same statement on social media, the Iranian embassy in Spain said Mr Sánchez was the only Spanish national held in Iran.

Ana Baneira Suarez, a Spanish activist who worked for a human rights NGO, was arrested in Tehran in November 2022 – but released the following February.

Courtesy: BBC