DARK tourists seeking thrills in terrifying war zones and paranoid rogue states risk being banged up in hell-hole jails accused of espionage and even being killed at the hands of their ruthless captors.
But for some of these so-called “danger travellers” the fear of being caught or killed is exactly what drives their adrenaline rush when they venture into nightmarish lands.
BANGED UP ABROAD
The phenomena of daredevil travel has been thrust back into the spotlight after Brit Jolie King was thrown into a brutal prison in Iran – after vowing to visit dangerous countries to remove the “stigma”.
Yet blogger Jolie, arrested for flying a drone camera near capital Tehran, is not the first adventurous westerner to be locked up in pariah states which are so authoritarian they would give George Orwell chills.
The hard-line regimes running rogue countries such as Iran have been diplomatic basket-cases for decades – and are suspicious of foreign nationals who dare set foot on their soil.
One tourist, from Britain, was branded a “spy” by Iran for taking a solitary photograph of a sunrise – which was setting against a major power plant.
He was blindfolded and tortured for 26 days with any access to lawyers, embassy officials or any word of a judicial process.
His only respite was terrifying interrogation sessions and various forms of psychological torture including sleep deprivation.
Another US traveller was jailed in North Korea for taking down a propaganda poster – before being beaten so badly in prison he died in a vegetative state.
But why do westerners want to visit war zones or pariah states?
British dark tourist Andy McGinlay, 38, has travelled to 102 countries around the world and has developed a taste for extreme holidays.
Between 2010 and 2015, he visited Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea – and feared he’d be kidnapped more than once.
Dark tourist Andy McGinlay, pictured here during riots in Bangkok in 2010, travels to war zones in his bid to visit every country in the world[/caption]
Andy visited the most secretive country in the world, North Korea, in 2015[/caption]
‘THEY WERE SPYING ON ME’
He told Sun Online about the motivations behind his adventures – which have seen him threatened with knives and taken against his will by bogus tour guides.
Andy said: “The first one was Yemen in 2004 and I got a taste for the thrill of it.
“In the beginning I got an adrenaline rush, absolutely.
“These days the feeling is what I call ‘hyper alert’ – where you become acutely aware of movements and sounds around you.
“Your guard is way up. I guess it’s the state in between fight or flight mode.”
Glasgow-born Andy, who runs a travel-based YouTube channel, said he was inspired by Lonely Planet co-founder Tony Wheeler who visited the pariah states listed by former US President George Bush in his infamous ‘Axis of Evil’ speech following 9/11.
He added: “But my ultimate ambition is to visit every country in the world – which is also driving me to take risks.”
And Jolie King isn’t the only Brit to have a sinister experience in Iran – a country which executes more people per capita than any other country on Earth.
In 2012, Andy believes he was spied on by Iranian security services during a trip to the northern city of Tabirz.
Andy arranged a guide, who was a local PHD student, to show him around and host him at his home for a few days.
The Scot visited Iran and Iraq in 2012 – and believes he was spied on in the Islamic Republic[/caption]
‘THEY ARE SO PARANOID’
However, when he left, travelling into north Iraq overland, his Iranian chaperone was arrested for “consorting with a British foreigner.”
Andy believes that he must have been followed by police as he arrived in Iran by bus from Armenia and never spoke with immigration authorities or cops while in the country.
He had obtained a visa from the Iranian embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, where he was working as a teacher.
Andy said: “They knew I was British and knew my identity. How did they join the dots?
“They are so paranoid, they interrogated him to find out if I was a spy.
“But what that means is that they must have been spying on us at the time which is incredible.
“They must have wondered or assumed that I was a spy because it’s very unusual for a British person to be travelling in Iran at that time and in that place. It’s not a very touristy place.”
Luckily, the guide was eventually released after he was able to prove that the Scottish backpacker’s visit was entirely innocent.
Brit tourist Andy in Afghanistan in April 2015[/caption]
JAILED FOR TAKING A PICTURE
Other tourists have not been so fortunate.
In 2010, another British tourist Andrew Barber was accused of “spying” by Iran and spent 58 days in Evin Prison – the same hellish jail where Jolie is being held.
It emerged that Andrew’s “crime” was taking a photograph of a sunrise which was near a power plant.
When police checked his belongings, they discovered that he had previously worked in Iraq – one of Iran’s bitter regional rivals – for logistics company DHL.
He claims he was refused access to the British embassy and thrown into a 14ft by 8ft cell where he was left blindfolded for 26 days.
He said: “I had no furniture and almost no natural light. Only a bright fluorescent tube that stayed on 24/7, even when you were trying to sleep.
“I was allowed out of my cell ten minutes a day to use the toilet. I started to lose my mind after about seven days.”
Thankfully, the charges against Andrew were eventually dropped because of zero evidence against him and he was handed over to the British embassy.
‘SPY’ DRONE DRAMAS
“Danger travel”, viewed by many enthusiasts as a distinct offshoot of dark tourism, made headlines in 2016 when US tourist Otto Warmbier was jailed in North Korea for stealing a propaganda poster.
But despite being sentenced to 15 years hard labour, the 22-year-old was released the following year in a coma after suffering a “severe neurological injury” while in prison.
Otto died on June 19, 2017 as a result of his injuries.
Drone cameras have revolutionised the way that ordinary people can make films.
But the flying gadgets are proving problematic for tourists travelling to developing countries.
In February this year, a French tourist was jailed for one month in Burma – a former military dictatorship recently accused of ethnic cleansing – for flying a drone over the parliament building.
Arthur Desclaux’s holiday turned into a living nightmare when he was handed the “light sentence” of one month in prison along with labour. The judge could have handed him three years in prison but rewarded him for his “sincerity” after he offered a guilty plea.
And in 2016, Canadian Chris Hughes was accused of “terrorism” and kept in solitary confinement in the searing heat of a jail in Cuba for 13 days – for launching a drone in capital Havana.
The experienced traveller said he was not allowed access to a lawyer in the socialist country which has been a one-party dictatorship since 1959.
ACCUSED OF BEING A SPY
He told PetaPixel: “While flying a recreational DJI drone, I was detained by Cuban military officials on suspicion of espionage and terrorist activity.
“No one spoke English, and from the few words I could understand, I was facing life in prison if I was found guilty of my alleged ‘crimes.’”
Thankfully, the Toronto-native was sent home after his wife and family petitioned to have him released.
In July, British vlogger Jolie King and her Aussie partner Mark Firkin were arrested in Iranian capital Tehran for also flying a drone.
They are now believed to being used as bargaining chips by the hard-line regime in a prisoner swap deal with the US.
Jolie is facing 10 years in jail and is being held in Evin Prison in the same wing as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a Brit mum who has been kept in the 15,000-strong prison since 2016.
According to former inmates there, prisoners have been electrocuted and raped by guards as well as being beaten so hard they vomit blood.
OTHER SIDE OF DARK TOURISM
The loose definition of “dark tourism”, a phrase coined by two Scottish academics in the 1990s, is visiting a place which is known for death or disaster.
Many experts believe there is an important distinction between visiting historical sites such as Auschwitz and so-called “danger travel.”
Dr Peter Hohenhaus claims to be “probably the most widely travelled, dedicated dark tourist” in the world having visited more than 700 different sites including Nazi death camps and Chernobyl.
He told Sun Online: “I do not seek danger and have rarely found myself in risky situations, and if so that was quite independently of dark tourism and not planned as such, often having more to do with dodgy means of transport in countries such as Indonesia.
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“It is unfortunately a very common misunderstanding of dark tourism that it is ‘danger tourism’ but for 99.99 per cent of it that is not actually the case.
“I know there are people who actively look for an adrenaline kick through danger tourism – for example by travelling to active war zones even, but I would not call that dark tourism.
“It’s something else and something I do not take part in or can even relate to much.”
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