26 Oct 2022

Kiwi couple missing in Iran for four months now safe and well

1:49 pm on 26 October 2022
Topher Richwhite and Bridget Thackwray in Canada. The couple have been on a trip round the world by jeep called 'Expedition Earth'.

Topher Richwhite and Bridget Thackwray in Canada. The couple have been travelling round the world by jeep on a trip called 'Expedition Earth'. Photo: Expedition Earth / Instagram

New Zealand social media influencers held in Iran have escaped the country safe and well.

Topher Richwhite and his wife Bridget Thackwray were not able to leave the Middle Eastern country, which has been experiencing weeks of unrest.

The couple have been travelling round the world by jeep on a trip called 'Expedition Earth' and documenting their trip on Instagram.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade says consular officials have been providing support to them and their families but would not comment on what the consular issues were, citing privacy reasons.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the ministry and the New Zealand government had been working hard over the past several months "to ensure the safe exit of two New Zealanders from Iran", and it was "with great relief" that she heard the news.

She said she could not provide many more details and would let the family and the couple speak for themselves, except to say she understood it "had been particularly difficult" for the two individuals involved.

Ardern would not comment on the circumstance that led to them being held in Iran.

While the government had been working to get them out of Iran, she said she "we have wanted to be very clear on New Zealand's position on the protests in Iran and the death of an Iranian woman under circumstances which we are utterly opposed to".

She was also asked whether their situation had impacted the strength of New Zealand's statements on the protests.

"What has happened with the protests, what has happened in the lead up to the protests, the inability of women to make choices on their own behalf based around their religious practice, or just their own liberty is wrong," said Ardern.

"We have of course, at the same time, had a difficult set of circumstances for two New Zealanders.

"We've worked very hard to make sure that we put our values front and centre at the same time looking after the interests of New Zealanders on the ground."

The Green Party is questioning whether the Ministry of Foreign Affairs mishandled the pair's disappearance.

Green Party human rights and foreign affairs spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman questioned whether the incident prevented the Government from criticising Iran's human-rights abuses.

"Were they lacking the expertise, did their action in keeping things quiet prolong the detention of these two Kiwis and were they used as a bit of a pawn to keep the government silent," she said.

She said the government should have spoken up sooner.

The official travel warning for New Zealanders travelling to Iran was updated this morning to warn against visiting that country, "due to the potential for violent civil unrest, the risk of arrest or detention and the volatile security situation in the region".

Those there now are "advised to depart".

Ardern said it was "important that we reiterate just how dangerous it is to be in Iran as a foreign national at present".

"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.

"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."

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