A Spanish soccer fan trekking from Madrid to Doha, Qatar, for the World Cup has been arrested in Iran after visiting the grave of Mahsa Amini, according to two reports that surfaced on Tuesday.
Santiago Sanchez’s family went public earlier in the day with a plea for information on his whereabouts after silence upon entering Iran. The 41-year-old is an experienced trekker, former paratrooper and fervent soccer fan. His family last heard from him in an audio message on October 2.
Now, a report from Hengaw – a human rights organization – and another from Iran International say that Sanchez has been arrested after visiting Amini’s grave.
Hengaw says: ‘Sánchez, a 41-year-old tourist from Spain, was kidnapped by Iranian security forces after visiting the grave of Zhina (Mahsa) Amini in Saqqez.
‘Hengaw’s sources, whose identity remains protected for security reasons, stated that Santiago Sánchez is being held in the detention center of Iranian Intelligence in Sanandaj.’
Amini, 22, died on September 16, three days after being taken into custody by Iran’s notorious morality police for supposedly not wearing her hijab correctly while she was in Iran’s capital, Tehran.
Her death has sparked uprisings across Iran and communities across the world, with protestors ultimately seeking regime change from the Islamic republic that rules the country.
Iran’s rulers have responded with force against protestors and have also accused foreign countries of trying to create unrest.
Santiago Sanchez was last pictured (above) on October 1, before crossing into Iran
Mahsa Amini’s death on September 16 has sparked angry protests against Iran’s rulers
The Real Madrid fan is in the latter stages of a mammoth walk from Madrid to Doha in Qatar
In this frame grab from video, the 41-year-old speaks to The Associated Press on a street in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq on September 28. He has not been heard from since crossing into Iran
In a separate report on Tuesday, Iran International quoted Iran’s judiciary spokesperson confirming that more foreign nationals had been arrested on accusations of trying to harm national security.
The judiciary referred to a ‘case of the French spies’ but did not elaborate further on how many overall arrests had been made and what countries the foreign nationals are from.
Sanchez had previously said his intention for his trip to Qatar was to learn how others lived before reaching the first World Cup host country in the Arab world, in time for Spain’s first match on November 23.
‘The idea of the journey is to motivate and inspire other people to show that they can go very far with very little,’ he told the AP from Sulaymaniyah, a Kurdish city in northeastern Iraq.
However, Sanchez’s family last heard from him on October 2, a day after he crossed the Iraq-Iran border.
He planned to go to the Iran’s capital, Tehran, where a television station apparently wanted to interview him. His next step would have been Bandar Abbas, a port in southern Iran, where he would travel by boat to Qatar.
‘We are deeply worried, we can’t stop crying, my husband and I,’ his mother, Celia Cogedor, told The Associated Press.
Sanchez’s parents reported him missing on October 17, and they said Spain’s police and diplomats were helping the family.
‘After a few days, we didn’t worry about him not posting; it matched what he had said. But after eight or nine days, my daughter and his closest friends … we already began to think that we had to report his disappearance,’ his mother said.
The parents of Sanchez look at a photo of their son on a phone in their home in Henches, Spain
Sanchez has been travelling by foot to Qatar ahead of Spain’s first game of the tournament
Sanchez’s disappearance stirs fears about his fate in a country convulsed by mass unrest
Sanchez smiles in this undated family photo provided the the Sanchez Cogedor family
In this photo provided the the Sanchez Cogedor family, Sanchez poses with his sister Natalia
Spain’s Foreign Ministry said it had no information about Sanchez’s whereabouts, adding that the Spanish ambassador to Tehran was handling the matter. Calls to the Iranian Foreign Ministry seeking comment were not immediately returned.
In his final Instagram post, Sanchez shared photos from his final stop in northern Iraq, and said he was ‘spending the night there before crossing to Iran where a family is waiting for me who found out about my trip and they wanted to share a day with me.’
He then ended the post with: ‘Travel but do not run away from anything and less from yourself. Lose yourself to find yourself.’
Sanchez previously spent time in Iran in 2019, when he biked a similar route to get from Madrid to Saudi Arabia.
‘He has not been making propaganda, neither for nor against any situation,’ his parents added. ‘The only thing that moves him is supporting Real Madrid — and walking to get on time to the World Cup in Qatar.’
There have been calls for FIFA, the World Cup organiser, to kick Iran out of the tournament next month over supplying drones to Russia to aid its invasion of Ukraine.
Iran is scheduled to play England, the United States and Wales in the tournament.
The 41-year-old is an experienced trekker, former paratrooper and fervent soccer fan
Santiago Sanchez Sr, his worried father, shows a phone with a family photo of his son