Santiago Sanchez Cogedor has always loved adventure, but he says his “truly adventurous” spirit was awakened during a trip to Brazil in 2018.
In an interview with BBC Mundo he said, “I visited caves and volunteered in an orphanage. I visited parts of South America with a backpack on my back and often slept in the homes of local families. “
This 42-year-old Spaniard from the Madrid community never imagined that his latest adventure would become his worst nightmare.
In January 2022, he decided to walk from Madrid to Qatar to attend the football World Cup to be held in that Arab country.
But his plans were dashed when he was detained in Iran, where he was charged with spying and this happened 14 months in fearful jail The security facility, known as Avin, has been the subject of numerous complaints for serious human rights violations.
“I went through things I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy,” he says.
Sanchez has already visited Iran in 2020 And that is why he had no hesitation in returning.
He says, “I made a bicycle trip from Madrid to Saudi Arabia to watch the Spanish Super Cup, which was held in that country, and to watch their football team, Real Madrid.”
He crossed 15 countries in four months. After reaching their final destination, they decided to visit other Middle Eastern countries Kuwait, Qatar and Iran,
He recalls, “I was very impressed by the hospitality of the Iranians and met many people there.”
“I didn’t know there would be protests”
Upon leaving Madrid on his new adventure, Santiago estimated that it would take him a year to walk to Qatar.
“I proposed a spiritual journey in solidarity with myself and the world. I was collecting garbage, I planted trees and I dressed up as a clown in hospitals for children with cancer And other diseases,” he says.
While passing through Iraq he heard that the situation in Iran was tense, but “I didn’t know there was violence there.”
Sánchez alleges that because he has visited the country before, “I never imagined in my wildest dreams that what happened to me could happen to me” and that is why he chose to include it in his route. Didn’t hesitate.
In mid-September 2022, the death of 22-year-old woman Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iran’s “morality police” shocked the Islamic country.
Police arrested him for allegedly failing to comply Strict rules on wearing veil, Eyewitnesses claim that the girl was beaten inside a police van while being detained in Iran’s capital Tehran.
Santiago says he did not know much about Mahsa Amini’s case and was unaware that the girl had died.
But he claims he set him up.
“They fooled me”
Santiago explains that during his first visit to Iran in 2020, he met a man in the southern city of Bandar Abbas who hosted him.
When the Iranian citizen learned that the Spanish tourist was returning to his country, he offered him accommodation again They insisted on searching him at the border With Iraq.
“I was skeptical when he told me this, because he lives about 1,700 kilometers from the border where I was,” says Santiago.
“I told him: ‘Hey, buddy, Why so interested in coming looking for me? I’m far away, aren’t I?” he recalls.
“Now that I think about it, I understand why. After Mahsa Amini’s arrest, she encouraged me to post something on Instagram with the hashtag #mahsaamini And I always ignored his suggestions because I wasn’t interested.”
Santiago explains that when the Iranian man picked them up near Marivan, a city in western Iran, he took them to the city of Saqqez, where the young woman was buried.
“Through a translator on my phone I asked him: ‘Where are we going? I thought we were going to Tehran“, Memorization.
“He tricked me into entering Mahsa Amini’s grave. Now I know he just wanted me to take a photo and post it on Instagram.”
Santiago says that despite what happened in Sáquez, he only had a photograph of a grave, so he does not understand why Iranian officials accused him of spying.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” he says. “You should ask them (Iranian officials) why they thought I was a spy.”
Santiago’s appearance attracted the attention of a group of agents of Iranian intelligence services, who came to him, forced him into a car, took his luggage, blindfolded him and took him to a police station.
“When they arrested me I thought it was a joke“I never thought something like this could happen to me.”
He spent 42 days in isolation in a small cell, under “great pressure” due to interrogation.
“I think they knew I wasn’t a spy, but they kept interrogating me anyway.”
He was then transferred to another prison in Sáquez, where he met Ángel Losada, the Spanish ambassador to Iran, who lobbied for Santiago to be transferred to the Iranian capital.
After this the Iranian authorities decided to send him to Evin prison.
He allowed him only “one call” from his family. Three months after his arrest.
“It’s a lie that they let me contact my family on Skype. I don’t know where that came from.”
Avin was opened in 1971 and since then it has become one of the symbol of authoritarian character The government of Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic.
Evin prison, located in a neighborhood of Iran’s capital Tehran, has long been criticized by human rights groups.
According to Human Rights Watch, prison authorities use threats of torture and indefinite detention.
The same source claims that prisoners are denied medical care and subjected to lengthy interrogations.
In August 2021 a group of hackers calling themselves Edalat-e Ali (Ali Justice) published videos containing leaked surveillance images from Evin prison, showing guards beating or abusing prisoners.
A large number of political prisoners and journalists live in the jail. and many foreign citizens or dual citizens.
“I haven’t been able to sleep without pills since they broke me out of Evin prison. It’s terrible. Loneliness never leaves you, not even when they ‘liberate’ you, ” described a former prisoner who was in solitary confinement. Organization Human Rights Watch.
“He even talked to ants”
In Avin, Santiago was again in solitary confinement for “41 or 42 days”.
,it was very hard, It’s something I wouldn’t wish even on my worst enemy,” he says, before adding that he plans to use the “pain and suffering” those memories cause him to help other people. “I have no complaints,” he says.
“Iran took away my freedom, but it gave me time to take a journey within myself in which I traveled through dark places and in which I tried to grow as a human being.”
He claims that he almost always “treated well” to him, except on one occasion which he justified by saying it was part of being in prison.
At Avin, Santiago used his time to contribute to the prison community.
“I gave Spanish classes, boxing classes, organized football tournaments, set up volleyball nets and invited all the inmates to play sports,” he says.
,avin prisoners became my family, He treated me like a guest. “They endured a lot of suffering and pain, but also a lot of hospitality.”
He also recalls the “inhumane” conditions of some parts of the prison.
“Section 209 in Evin is one of the most horrific places I have ever seen. It should be banned from keeping a human being in a cell with no bathroom, from where they blindfold you once a week and walk you out into the courtyard for ten minutes. Let’s take away.
“Being innocent, it should be completely forbidden to lock you in a cell like this.”
“I want to ask Iran: “If I was a tourist with good memories of that country, why did they cause me this harm?”,
Santiago suspects that Section 209 is used to pressure prisoners to speak out “if they have something to tell.”
“That part of Avin produces suffering from another planet. I talked to the ants there too, but that suffering is mine.”
“All I know is that I am innocent and that I spent 15 months in a prison where there are no human rights.”
“It was 15 months of pressure under the possible penalty of life imprisonment or the death penalty, as spies can be executed in Iran.”
But he says that now he wants to keep only the good and forget the bad. His goal is to recover from what happened to him and continue with his life.
“My mother read an article that said I wanted to return to Iran, which is a lie, and she almost fainted.”
“My mind is still in Iran”
Asked about Iranians who were jailed for taking part in protests over the death of Mahsa Amini, some of whom he met in Evin, he said: “Everyone fought for that thing. “For which they have to fight.”
“The Iranians will fight for the freedom of their country and we Spaniards will fight for what we have to fight for (…) “I’m not saying it’s good or bad.”
Upon arriving at Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport on January 2, Santiago Sánchez was greeted by his family and friends with applause, smiles and some tears.
“We don’t know how lucky we are to be born in Spain,” he declared, repeating a phrase he said after getting off the plane.
“The mere fact of being awake, of having legs and arms, Being able to move freely in a country… a little different, I’m not going to say anything more than that,” he added.
“A few words about a good listener”.
He does not know the reason for his release, but he does not complain, and believes that despite being innocent, he could have been held in Iran for “two or five years”.
The Spanish adventurer assured that he had regained his freedom, but had not yet managed to recover himself: “My body is in Spain, but my mind is still in Iran.”
He still does not know the real effects of his experience in Iran, but he sees his release as a new opportunity that life is giving him.
“Everything in life happens for a reason and the biggest limitations are in the mind. I’m going to use this pain to improve.”
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