Much diplomatic capital was wasted on rescuing two idiots abroad – all for likes and a brilliant selfie

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Andrea Vance is a senior reporter for Stuff.

OPINION: Intrepid… or just stupid?

The sad story of how two travel “influencers” became entangled in Iran’s incendiary politics is one for our digital age.

Topher Richwhite, the son of one of New Zealand’s richest men, and Bridget Thackwray blundered in the Islamic republic in July as the country was on the verge of another revolution.

In the spring (from the northern hemisphere), protests by teachers, pensioners and bus drivers erupted as the economy deteriorated and the cost of living soared. Economic reforms in May triggered inflation (52% increase) and rising food prices (82%), and the rial fell, reaching a record high in June.

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Sporadic demonstrations were met with a wave of repression. Over the summer, security forces arrested prominent civil society activists, journalists and filmmakers.

The conservative regime has become more repressive and intolerant over time, defying Western efforts to curb its nuclear program, installing a radical new president in the person of Ebrahim Raisi and imposing a campaign of chastity.

Topher Richwhite and Bridget Thackwray have

Earth/Instagram Expedition

Topher Richwhite and Bridget Thackwray “disappeared” in Iran for four months.

Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody, after allegedly breaking a strict code of modesty, and the protests that followed, had yet to take place.

But, as Richwhite and Thackwray crossed the Gürbulak-Bazargan border in their Jeep Wrangler, the signs of a volatile situation were already there.

The net of international tourism was beginning to dry up as countries began warning citizens against traveling to Iran due to the risk of kidnapping, arbitrary arrest and detention. In early July, it was revealed that a Polish scientist had been arrested months earlier.

Visiting Iran can be a rich and rewarding experience. It is a vast and beautiful landscape, and a country that has preserved ancient cultures and treasures. Climbing the dusty desert paths to the Towers of Silence cemeteries in Yazd, wandering the winding maze of alleyways and bazaars of Isfahan, and visiting the half-ruined palace complex of Persepolis are among my globe- trot the most precious.

But traveling in Iran – even when it’s safe – requires caution and sensitivity. Warm hospitality is ingrained – but you have to be careful. There are risks for Iranians to talk recklessly with foreigners, and one careless remark could put one of you at risk.

The visa system is confusing and time-consuming – you can’t just show up at the border and expect to be let in. According to their Instagram videos, the couple waited for hours at the border and were taken to a meeting with the local chief. customs.

The central square of Isfahan, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The city, with its huge mosques, picturesque bridges and ancient bazaar, is Iran's top tourist destination.

John Moore/Getty Images

The central square of Isfahan, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city, with its huge mosques, picturesque bridges and ancient bazaar, is Iran’s top tourist destination.

Public displays of affection should be avoided, as punishments can be severe. Richwhite and Thackwray filmed and posted a video of them kissing. The dress code requires women to cover their hair in public and wear loose clothing.

It was incredibly reckless to arrive in a sanctioned vehicle, with a boot full of banned tech and a film of bikini photos.

You don’t have to agree to the rules, but as a guest you must abide by them. Civilian morality police are everywhere – and within a day of their arrival, Thackwray’s t-shirt was ruled unsuitable at a police station.

A portrait of Mahsa Amini is held at a rally calling for regime change in Iran following the death of Amini, a young woman who died after being arrested in Tehran by Iran's notorious vice police.

Cliff Owen/AP

A portrait of Mahsa Amini is held at a rally calling for regime change in Iran following the death of Amini, a young woman who died after being arrested in Tehran by Iran’s notorious vice police.

Soon they were detained by security forces, powerless pawns in a geopolitical environment of which they seemed utterly ignorant. Iran has a long history of detaining foreigners and dual nationals, a practice that human rights groups have compared to taking hostages to extract concessions, including money and prisoner exchanges.

This couple has a form: displaying their privilege with an armed escort through a desert where people live in extreme poverty and risk their safety by sleeping rough in a region of Mexico plagued by violent crime. Their airy memories of these adventures are ostensibly meant to raise environmental awareness.

Following their most recent dizzying adventures, New Zealand diplomats have been forced to work tirelessly to secure their freedom of movement.

Iranians are protesting the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

PA

Iranians are protesting the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

Consular assistance is a normal part of the job, but imagine the pressure and the risks of being responsible for the safety of two rich children in a country that extracts “confessions” from foreigners and then exhibits them on state television. .

Unlike some other Western states, New Zealand enjoyed relative goodwill within the Islamic Republic. Although they cannot leave, the unfortunate travelers are not imprisoned.

But a lot of diplomatic capital was spent to save these two idiots abroad. By silencing calls for an international investigation into the regime’s current crackdown, the government has damaged its position on the world stage.

Thackwray poses in the Ethiopian desert.

GROUND EXPEDITION

Thackwray poses in the Ethiopian desert.

And why? Likes, another unrealistic and shiny selfie, and presumably a breathless account of their traumatic experience, sold to the highest bidder of the media?

If Richwhite and Thackwray had any appreciation for what had been done to ensure their safety, or the fate of other detainees remaining in Iran, that was not apparent from their tone-deaf statement released last week.

There are noble reasons for going to hard-to-reach and perilous places: humanitarian work or serious journalism. But producing inaccessible and illusory travel content is not one of them.

“Influence” can get you there, but it won’t get you out of trouble in an authoritarian regime.

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