Topher Richwhite, Bridget Thackwray: Human rights advocate slams 'self-entitled' Kiwi influencers, calls on Govt to add Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to terror list

A human rights advocate is slamming two Kiwi travel influencers after they became stuck in Iran despite being warned it was unsafe to travel to the country.

Topher Richwhite and his wife Bridget Thackwray entered Iran in July as part of an 'Expedition Earth' world tour they were documenting on their social media accounts.

While they weren't imprisoned - Newshub understands the pair's movements were restricted instead - they were held in more than one place and could not leave without Government intervention.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson told Newhsub on Wednesday the couple is now "safe and well".

Human rights advocate Samira Taghavi told AM on Thursday the couple's actions were "absolutely reckless" and "self-entitled" in the current environment.

"There was a warning in terms of a travel ban to Iran since 2020 and there were clear warnings you should not come to Iran as a tourist and use drones," Taghavi told AM.

Taghavi said the couple's actions have resulted in the Government taking a softer stance on what is happening in Iran.

"They have put themselves at risk and in the past four months that stopped our Government here for a variety of reasons to condemn unequivocally what was happening in Iran whilst they were focussing on these two New Zealand Europeans," she said.

Iran is reeling from weeks of protests sparked by the killing in custody of Kurdish-Iranian woman Mahsa Amini.

An attack on a Shi'ite Muslim shrine in the Iranian city of Shiraz killed 13 people on Wednesday (local time) as security forces clashed with protesters marking 40 days since the death of the 22-year-old.

Appearing on AM alongside Taghavi, fellow human rights advocate Mahsa Marks said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's response to what is happening in Iran has been out of touch with the rest of the world.

"We have a female-led Government. We had an opportunity to lead in condemning Iran and imposing sanctions. What we've seen happen in Canada, the United States, Germany and the UK, New Zealand has fallen far behind," Marks said.

"We've had friends and family overseas going, what's happening to New Zealand? You have a Prime Minister that has such a public figure and has led so many different key moments and this is a global moment. There is a human rights crisis happening in Iran, and she's a parent and there are children being killed in Iran. How come she's not coming out much stronger."

Human rights advocate Samira Taghavi believes the couple's actions were "absolutely reckless" and "self-entitled" in the current environment.
Human rights advocate Samira Taghavi believes the couple's actions were "absolutely reckless" and "self-entitled" in the current environment. Photo credit: AM

But Newshub understands it was deliberate. Ardern deliberately tempered her criticism of Iran to avoid upsetting the regime and jeopardising the release of the two Kiwi influencers.

"Over the past several months, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the New Zealand Government has been working hard to ensure the safe exit of two New Zealanders from Iran," Ardern said.

"It's absolutely horrific to see a set of circumstances where a woman would lose her life as a result of breaking the rules of what essentially are morality police."

Taghavi is urging Ardern to come down hard on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard and apply sanctions on them.

"We have been very clear, the Iranian community has been clear and consistent in terms of their requests from the Government," Taghavi said.

"The first thing we want to see is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard added to the terrorist group. Everything they do meets the criteria, under our terrorism act here in New Zealand."

This isn't the first misadventure for Richwhite and Thackwray, Stuff reports they have previously driven through war-torn South Sudan and have been held up at gunpoint en route to the Ethiopian depression known as the "Gateway to Hell".

The Kiwi travel influencers spoke about their ordeal for the first time on Thursday morning saying they were "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 in our Expedition Earth journey," the pair said in a statement on Thursday.

"We are safe and well, however we would ask for privacy for ourselves and our families over the coming days while we collect our bearings and enjoy being reunited with our families."

Watch the full interview with Samira Taghavi and Mahsa Marks above.