By Maryam Dehkordi
December 22, 2021
A Turkish photographer and filmmaker, Bora Omeroglu, has been detained in Iran for the past four days. People close to Bora told IranWire his phone cut out near the city of Abadeh, halfway from Isfahan to Shiraz. He was then allowed to make one brief call to say he had been arrested. His whereabouts and the reason for his detention are unknown.
Since March 2021, Bora Omeroglu has been sharing photos of his travels through Iran on Instagram and on professional website. The website explains that from March 2021, he planned to embark on a project of self-discovery – called Silent Path – in which he would walk 10,000km from Istanbul to India, all in silence and while communicating only in writing. Recently-posted images show different Iranian cities Bora passed through: from Qom to Delijan, Isfahan to Shahreza, next to street vendors and half-finished buildings, on dusty roads and in front of mountain ranges.
“Bora was going to go from Istanbul to Iran, then to Pakistan, and his final destination was India,” a source told IranWire. “He is fasting in silence, and not talking to anyone except out of total necessity. He has a mystical spirit and was in search for his ‘lost’ self.
“While he was in Isfahan, he went to the Immigration and Passport Office to extend his stay in Iran if possible. But the staff treated him very badly. They asked, ‘What’s in Iran for you that makes you want to stay more than three months?’” Bora left the office without any further argument, but evidently he was then followed. At the time he became unreachable Bora was about five kilometers from Abadeh, near Shiraz.
CouchSurfing a Step Too Far
The source said Bora was staying in strangers’ houses, taking up offers of hospitality and homestays where he found them with the help of social networking app CouchSurfing. While fairly commonplace among backpackers, the app is banned in Iran. “Apart from Turkish,” the source said, “he is fluent in three languages: English, French and Spanish. But he speaks only if necessary. Given the ban on CouchSurfing in Iran, we’re worried he’ll be made the butt of some baseless accusation.”
People who sign up to CouchSurfing can often stay at a local’s house for free instead of paying for a hotel. Many Iranians have signed up as hosts for foreign tourists. But the security agencies regard the app as subversive because neither hosts nor guests are obliged to report any suspicious activity to the Tourism Organization, and travellers’ details do not have to be sent to law enforcement by the accommodation providers. The Iran Hotel Association also considers CouchSurfing a potential disaster for its own members’ income.
The Dangers of Traveling to Iran
This is far from the first time a tourist or traveler has been detained in Iran for unknown or arbitrary reasons. In February 2021 it emerged that Benjamin Briere, a 35-year-old French tourist, had been detained in Mashhad for the past nine months. Briere was later accused of espionage for allegedly flying a drone and taking pictures in a prohibited area, and is still awaiting trial.
Previously in October 2019, British-Australian vlogger Julie King and Australian boyfriend Mark Firkin were released after three months in Evin Prison. The pair had been arrested at gunpoint by plainclothes agents in July 2019 and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, again for having supposedly flown a drone without a permit. Before their arrest the pair had been documenting their adventures in a travel blog, which they said aimed to “try to break the stigma around travelling to countries which get a bad rap in the media.”
Several European and American citizens and dual nationals are still currently imprisoned by the Islamic Republic, many thought to be being held as hostages. Several former prisoners including Jason Rezaian and Kylie Moore-Gilbert have warned foreign would-be tourists to avoid travel to Iran.