Spanish football fan returns home after 15 months in Iranian prison.

Santiago Sánchez Cogedor, released by the Iranian authorities on 31 December after being accused of spying, said in Spain that his imprisonment had been "very hard". His family claim that he was deceived and appreciate the diplomatic efforts between Spain and Iran to secure his release.

Santiago Sánchez Cogedor, a Spanish citizen, arrived in Spain last Sunday after 15 months in an Iranian prison. "It's been very hard," he declared as soon as he set foot in Madrid, from where he left on 8 January 2022 to experience something he had never imagined. "I can't believe it. It's been very long, very hard, but I'm here, I'm in my country."

He left Alcalá de Henares, Spain, with the aim of walking to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. He walked halfway around the world, crossing countries such as France, Monaco, Italy, San Marino, Albania, Greece and Turkey until he arrived in Iran, from where he has returned disoriented and confused.

Message from the Spanish Embassy in Iran after Sánchez Cogedor's release. X
Message from the Spanish Embassy in Iran after Sánchez Cogedor's release. X

The Iranian government announced last Sunday that he'd be released. "I spent 15 months with a possible death sentence that nobody knows about." He explained when asked about his experiences during those fifteen months. He would not go into detail, preferring to keep his experiences to himself. "These things belong to me. It is not good to hold on to hatred and resentment.

Sánchez Cogedor himself recalled the accusations made against him, as neither the Iranian authorities nor the Foreign Ministry had provided any concrete information about his arrest. The recently released man was grateful for the work of the Spanish ambassador in Iran, Ángel Losada, "who has been a real phenomenon," as he reiterated that "it is very difficult to negotiate with these people", referring to the Iranian authorities. 

He was released on 31 December and spent New Year's Eve with the ambassador and his family, Sánchez Cogedor said on his arrival. "It was a unique and unforgettable experience." Recalling that the ambassador himself had advised him not to return to Iran, he joked to lighten the tension on his arrival: "I might go back to Iran, even though you told me, 'Don't come.'" 

His arrest came amid protests in Iran following the death in custody of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, who was allegedly arrested for mistakenly wearing the Islamic veil. In fact, the Spanish man's arrest was the result of a visit to the young woman's grave. He had gone to the site in the company of Iranians he had met during his trip. 

His family shared the same version, adding that Sánchez Cogedor had been "deceived" on his arrival in Iran by an opponent who took him to take a photo at Mahsa Amini's grave without his knowledge. 

"My son had a contact with them when he arrived in Iran. And this contact seems to be an opponent of the regime. He caught him, deceived him and took him to the grave to photograph it as a foreigner and to post it on social media," the family explained. This led to his immediate arrest. He was detained for 15 months. 

His mother had only words of gratitude for Spain's ambassador to Iran, Ángel Losada, for doing "the possible and the impossible". Celia Cogedor described Losada as "an extraordinary person" after her son's release 15 months later. 

Losada secured his release. The ambassador's visit to Sánchez Cogedor came after several months in prison. He was accused of espionage, a crime punishable by death in Iran. He was later transferred to Evin 209, the harshest prison in the Asian country. His confidence waned and he was tempted to stop eating and resign himself to his fate.

However, his behaviour was such that he was transferred to a less severe prison, where he had access to a telephone in Spain and was able to contact his family in the hope of securing his release. The Spanish government has been negotiating with the Iranian authorities.