New Zealand couple held in Iran allowed to leave, PM Ardern says

The two travel bloggers disappeared from public view almost four months ago after entering Iran.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her government had worked for several months to secure the couple's release [File: Rick Rycroft/AP]
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her government had worked for several months to secure the couple's release from Iran [File: Rick Rycroft/AP]

Two travel bloggers from New Zealand who disappeared from public view for almost four months after entering Iran have now safely left the country, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said.

The New Zealand Herald identified the two as social media influencers Topher Richwhite and Bridget Thackwray, who post under the name Expedition Earth.

New Zealand’s Ardern revealed on Wednesday that her government had been “working hard” for a number of months to “ensure the safe” exit of the couple from Iran, saying the couple had endured “difficult circumstances”.

“I am aware of just how incredibly difficult it has been for them and their family over these past few months. I am delighted they are safe,” Ardern said.

Ardern did not provide details of the negotiations with Iran’s government but said she had not shied away from criticising the recent bloody crackdown on young protesters in that country — mainly women — who are objecting to the strict interpretation of Islamic law and authoritarian governance.

“Of course we have shared our condemnation at the same time we have also had a duty of care to ensure that those New Zealanders were able to exit Iran,” she said.

“We have worked hard to do both: to ensure their safety but also to place our values on record on what is happening in Iran.”

Thackwray and her newlywed husband Richwhite, the son of one of New Zealand’s wealthiest men, entered Iran from Turkey in early July. Soon after, their social media feeds fell silent, prompting concern from fans, friends and family. The couple’s last social media post was 16 weeks ago from the Tas Yol passage in Turkey.

The circumstances of the couple’s time in Iran are not yet clear and Iranian officials have told the AFP news agency that the couple had not been detained or arrested.

Neither Ardern nor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade released any details on the detained couple or where they had been held.

The New Zealand government also on Wednesday updated its travel warnings for Iran and urged New Zealanders currently there to leave the country.

A statement released alongside the travel update said New Zealand continues to call for restraint by authorities in responding to the demonstrations, and for greater protection of women’s rights and freedom of expression.

Iran has repeatedly accused outside forces of stirring up the protests inside the country and Westerners are frequently taken into custody. Detainees have often been released after intensive behind-the-scenes negotiations, which have been known to involve prisoner swaps.

New Zealand’s national broadcaster RNZ (Radio New Zealand) said Ardern warned of the dangers of travelling in Iran as a foreigner.

“We reiterate just how dangerous it is to be in Iran as a foreign national at present,” the prime minister was quoted as saying by RNZ.

“And I say it again, if you are a New Zealander, considering travel or you are there, don’t go — and if you are there come home, we cannot guarantee your safety,” she said.

“And as this example demonstrates, it can lead to very difficult circumstances. Whilst in this situation the New Zealanders have been able to depart, we cannot guarantee that would happen in the future.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies