An influencer couple from New Zealand reported missing for nearly four months in Iran finally returned home, the country’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Wednesday.
The duo, Christopher “Topher” Richwhite and Bridget Thackwray, went missing in early July after they were stopped and questioned by officials as they entered Iran. After Richwhite posted a video of the same, which has since been deleted, all communication with the couple abruptly stopped, sparking fears among their followers online, The Guardian reported.
Since returning home, the couple made their first public statement Thursday. “We are extremely relieved and happy to be back with our families. We are most grateful to all those who have supported us over recent months and thank them sincerely for all their help during this challenging chapter,” the duo shared.
Before their disappearance, Richwhite and Thackwray were driving their Jeep through 70 countries to raise awareness on environmental issues via their social media page, Expedition Earth.
With over 300,000 followers on Instagram, the two are somewhat of a social media celebrity couple in New Zealand. Richwhite also happens to be the son of one of the richest men in the country.
Nanaia Mahula, Foreign Minister of New Zealand, had taken up the issue of their disappearance with her Iranian counterpart in September. “We assisted two individuals to secure the necessary documentation in order to leave,” the BBC quoted Mahuta as saying Wednesday. “During the period of time we were working alongside them, their movements were restricted. They were monitored but they were safe and well.”
Both the Iranian government and the New Zealand media denied that the couple had been imprisoned or penalized in any way.
Immediately after the couple returned home, the foreign ministry issued a travel advisory to its citizens regarding travel to strife-torn Iran, also urging New Zealanders in the foreign country to immediately depart.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier shared a statement Tuesday via Facebook Live that her government had worked hard over the past few months to bring the couple back home. “It’s fair to say there’s been an incredibly difficult situation over the last few months,” Ardern was quoted as saying by CNN.
Iran continues to battle demonstrations and protests as the death toll continues to rise. Most western nations have warned their citizens against traveling to the country.