Santiago Sánchez, a Spanish man trekking from Madrid to Doha, the capital of Qatar, for the 2022 FIFA World Cup to be held there from 20 November to 18 December, is believed to be currently detained in a prison in Iran where he went missing more than three weeks ago, his family said on Wednesday.
‘We learned this morning from the [Spanish] foreign ministry that there’s a 99% chance he is arrested,’ Celia Cogedor, the mother of the 41-year-old trekker, told the AP news agency.
Sánchez’s sister is due to meet Thursday with officials at the Spanish Foreign Ministry in Madrid to learn further details.
The foreign ministry said in a statement that the Spanish embassy in Tehran is in touch with Iranian authorities about Sánchez. It declined to provide further details.
Iran is being engulfed by mass unrest, triggering fears about Sánchez’s fate after he stopped contacting his family in Spain on 2 October, a day after he crossed the Iraq-Iran border. He had warned his family that communication might be difficult in 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 would hop on a boat to Qatar. But all traces of him vanished even before he reached Tehran, his parents said.
His parents reported him missing on 17 October. They said Spain’s police and diplomats were helping the family.
This was not Sanchez’s first time in Iran. In 2019 the football fan cycled a similar route to get from Madrid to Saudi Arabia.
His parents say they are proud of his adventurous spirit and say his only aims are to help others and promote the Real Madrid soccer team.
Sánchez’s disappearance in Iran came as protesters are rising up across the Islamic Republic in the largest anti-government movement in over a decade. The demonstrations erupted on 16 September over the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman taken into custody by Iran’s morality police for allegedly not adhering to the country’s strict Islamic dress code.
Tehran has violently cracked down on protesters and blamed foreign enemies and Kurdish groups in Iraq for stirring unrest, without offering evidence. The Iranian Intelligence Ministry said authorities had arrested nine foreigners, mostly Europeans, over their alleged links to the protests.
Santiago Sánchez has been posting photos of his trek on Instagram at @santiago_sanchez_cogedor.
Santiago Sánchez Cogedor recorre el mundo desde España hasta Qatar andando y llegará en noviembre para la Copa del Mundo Qatar 2022.— Qatar Embassy-Spain (@QatarEmb_Madrid) September 15, 2022
Desde la Embajada de Qatar, deseamos a Santiago mucha fuerza para la recta final. pic.twitter.com/HJY0JpowA1