- Influencers Christopher Richwhite and Bridget Thackwray are returning home after being detained in Iran.
- The couple was detained for almost four months after crossing the border for a travel video.
- Prime minister Jacinda Arden said the government has been working for months to get them home.
Influencers Christopher “Topher” Richwhite and Bridget Thackwray are finally returning home to their native New Zealand after being detained in Iran for almost four months.
The couple, who typically post travel content on their joint Instagram account @expeditionearth.live to 304,000 followers, had been attempting to travel to 90 countries in a Jeep Wrangler in three years. The couple is relatively well-known in New Zealand, and Topher is the son of investment banker David Richwhite, one of the country’s wealthiest men.
Richwhite and Thackwray documented their crossing into Iran from Turkey in early July on their Instagram Stories. But shortly after, followers expressed concern for their well-being as the couple’s account went dark. The couple had been using an Expedition Earth GPS locator to let followers track them live, and followers noticed the GPS went offline (a message reads, “the tracker has been temporarily removed for the team’s safety during this region”) — and all social media posting had stopped. (Since early July, they haven’t posted on either their personal accounts or Expedition Earth’s account). Past posts were flooded with concerned messages from followers.
A source confirmed to the Guardian that security forces had detained the couple in Iran.
In Instagram stories from July, after the couple crossed the border, Richwhite described being detained for questioning about bringing their Jeep Wrangler into the country (Jeep is currently under sanctions in the country).
Shortly after the meeting, Richwhite posted to Instagram stories about being nervous and awaiting an answer, mentioning the possibility that they could “be told to turn around” which would be a “disaster.” Later, the newlyweds posted about their car being “given green light to enter Iran.” The following day, they posted about going to fill out paperwork at a police station and, in their final post, a photo of an Iranian flag with the text “ready for Iran.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed to local outlet NewsHub on Wednesday that the couple was “safe and well” and out of Iran. The same day, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the New Zealand government had been negotiating for the release of the couple for months and was “delighted they are safe,” deferring to the couple and their families for further comment.
Since 2020, New Zealand has had a “Do Not Travel” advisory for Iran and encouraged New Zealanders in the country to leave. Since protests spread across the country on September 17 after the death of Mahsa Amini, at least 233 people have been killed, according to human rights group reports.
“At all times, we have been aware over the past several months of the circumstances of the two New Zealanders in Iran and, of course, worked very hard to ensure their safe exit. At the same time, 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 I believe that we have done both,” Arden said on Wednesday.
Last month, Iranian-born New Zealand politician and former United Nations lawyer Golriz Ghahraman expressed discontent with how New Zealand had responded to the Iranian regime. “Our government could raise this issue loudly and rally our friends and allies to say actually ‘no,'” adding that “tyranny begets tyranny. We do need to stand up against these regimes equally, and say, actually ‘Iranian lives matter too.'”
The couple has not posted anything since their release.