MADRID: A Spanish soccer fan who returned to Spain on Tuesday after spending more than a year detained by the Iranian authorities on espionage charges told reporters at the airport he was already planning his return to the Islamic Republic.
Santiago Sanchez, who set out to walk to the Qatar World Cup from Spain, entered Iran on his way and was detained after visiting and photographing the burial site of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman who was arrested for allegedly flouting mandatory dress code and died in custody.
The Iranian Embassy in Madrid announced his release on New Year’s Eve and he touched down at Madrid’s Barajas Airport at around 1 p.m. (1200 GMT) on Tuesday.
“It has been very long, very hard but I am here in my country,” a jubilant Sanchez told reporters at the airport after an emotional reunion with his family and friends.
“We are not aware of how fortunate we are to have been born here in this country,” he added, referring to Spain.
He called Spain’s ambassador to Iran, Angel Losada “a real phenomenon and master of negotiation.”
But as he addressed Losada in his remarks, he said: “I will probably go back to Iran, even if you told me not to.”
He said he wanted the Iranian authorities “to understand that you cannot say no, that you have to let people free. If you put a fence in front of me I’m going to jump over it.”
Sanchez was last heard of on Oct. 1, 2022, when he sent friends a picture of himself on the Iraq-Iran border with the caption: “Entry to Iran.”
His detention coincided with the biggest protests in Iran’s history following Amini’s death.
Iran’s embassy in Spain said his release took place “within the framework of friendly and historical relations between the two countries and in compliance with the laws of Iran.”
Sanchez’s mother, Celia Cogedor, spoke of relief as she waited for his arrival. “The nightmare has ended at last,” she told reporters at the airport. “The worst were the first months (after his disappearance) because nobody knew if he was alive or dead.”