Topher Richwhite and Bridget Thackwray: Jacinda Ardern speaks out on Kiwi influencers released from detention in Iran

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Kiwi influencers just released from detention in Iran have been in a "particularly difficult" situation.

New Zealanders Topher Richwhite - the son of investment banker David Richwhite - and wife Bridget Thackwray were detained by Iranian authorities after entering the country in July as part of a world tour they documented on social media.

Speaking ahead of a trip to Antarctica, Ardern said the New Zealand Government has been "working hard" for several months to "ensure the safe exit of two New Zealanders from Iran".

She said the couple have been in "difficult circumstances" but are now safe and well out of the country. 

Ardern wouldn't comment on what led to the pair being detained or if their trip into Iran was irresponsible. She said it was up to the couple and their family to release further information.

"I am aware of just how incredibly difficult it has been for them and their family over these past few months."

The Prime Minister said the news that the pair had been released came with "great relief".

"I am delighted they are safe."

New Zealand media, including Newshub, previously agreed not to report the pair's situation due to fear from diplomats that the publicity may anger Iran's dangerous ruling regime and put their safety at risk.

Ardern said the Government took on the best advice to prioritise the safety of the pair.

"The fact that they have been able to depart I think speaks to the fact that that was the right strategy," she said.

No content has been uploaded to the couple's social media accounts since July. The influencers filmed themselves crossing the border from Turkey.

"They are opening the gate to the border. And we are driving.  We are crossing the border," Thackwray said in an Instagram story. 

"We have just come out of a 45-minute meeting with the Chief of Customs at the nearby town. It was a very strange experience, it was very formal. 

"We were told in advance that we weren't allowed to smile or cross our legs or fidget too much, which was pretty hard given how nervous we were. And the meeting was about who we were and why we were coming to Iran."

In another Instagram story, Richwhite kisses his wife despite Thackwray saying that is against local rules.

The couple entered Iran in July.
The couple entered Iran in July.

Newshub understands Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern deliberately toned down her criticism of recent issues in Iran to avoid upsetting the regime and jeopardising the release of the two Kiwis.

But Ardern said on Wednesday the Government has been very clear in condemning Iran after the death of Mahsa Amini. The 22-year-old Iranian died earlier this year while in police custody, prompting protests across Iran and around the world in opposition to the Iranian regime's treatment of women.

"At all times, we have been aware, over the past several months, of the circumstances of the two New Zealanders in Iran and, of course, worked very hard to ensure their safe exit," Ardern said.

"At the same time, we have wanted to be very clear on New Zealand's position on the protests in Iran and the death of an Iranian woman under circumstances  which we are utterly opposed to. I believe that we have done both."

She reiterated New Zealand Government travel advice not to travel to Iran.

"I do think it is important that we reiterate just how dangerous it is to be in Iran as a foreign national at present... if you are a New Zealander considering travel, don't go, and if you are there, come home. We cannot guarantee your safety.

"As this example demonstrates, it can lead to very difficult circumstances. Whilst in this situation the New Zealanders have been able to depart, we cannot guarantee that would happen in the future."

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta on Wednesday morning said the Government was stepping up its official travel advice for Iran. That came before news broke of Richwhite and Thackwray's release.

"The new advice for Iran reiterates the existing “Do Not Travel” warning, and adds that due to the potential for violent civil unrest, the risk of arrest or detention and the volatile security situation in the region, the risk to safety in Iran is significant," said Mahuta.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has warned against travel to Iran since early 2020. New Zealanders currently in Iran are advised to leave. Protests are continuing throughout the country, and there has been an increased number of foreign nationals arrested."

She added that New Zealanders in Iran should avoid demonstrations which could turn violent and stay away from "any areas where police or security forces are deployed as their presence alone could be misinterpreted".

"The new advisory warns New Zealanders of the risk of arbitrary arrest or detention. The risk may be higher if they undertake activities that could attract the attention of local authorities. For dual New Zealand/Iranian nationals this risk may be even greater.

"In all cases of arbitrary arrest or detention in Iran, the ability of the Government to provide consular assistance through the Embassy and other official channels is extremely limited. It’s important that people considering going to Iran think seriously about these risks and heed the travel advice."

Mahuta said New Zealand continues to call for an "independent and credible investigation" into the death of Amini and for restrant by authorities responding to protests. New Zealand also wants to see "greater protection of women's rights and freedom of expression".

"At the government’s request, MFAT officials also called in the Iranian Ambassador to convey these concerns directly to the Iranian government in September. We also consistently raise our concerns over human rights issues in international forums, as recently as March 2022 at a UN session in GenevaMore to come."