Concerns are growing for an Iranian athlete, who competed in a rock climbing competition in South Korea without wearing her country’s mandatory headscarf.
The decision by Elnaz Rekabi, bronze medalist at the 2021 world climbing championships, to give up the headscarf, or hijab, came as protests sparked by the September 16 death of a 22-year-old woman entered their fifth week. Mahsa Amini was arrested by the country’s vice police for her clothes.
The Iranian Embassy in Seoul said Rekabi, 33, left the country on Tuesday morning.
It was reported that she was due to leave on Wednesday, but her departure was brought forward by Iranian authorities.
The BBC’s Persian Service, which has extensive contacts in Iran despite the ban on operating there, quoted an unnamed “informed source” who described Iranian officials as having seized both the mobile phone and the passport of Rekabi.
A new Instagram post on an account attributed to Rekabi described her not wearing a hijab as “unintentional”, although it was not immediately clear whether she had written the post under duress or not.
The Iranian government routinely pressures activists at home and abroad, often airing what rights groups describe as forced confessions on state television.
IranWire, a website founded by an Iranian-Canadian journalist who was once detained by the regime, alleged that Rekabi would be immediately transferred to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison after arriving in the country.
Evin Prison was the site of a massive fire last weekend who killed at least eight prisoners.
In a tweet, the Iranian embassy in Seoul denied “all fake news and misinformation” regarding Rekabi’s departure on Tuesday.
But instead of posting a picture of her from the Seoul contest, he posted an image of her wearing a headscarf from a previous contest in Moscow.
Who is Iran’s first female rock climbing star, Elnaz Rekabi?
Elnaz Rekabi was already a recognized bouldering talent in his native Iran and across Asia before bursting onto the international stage at the World Cup in 2016.
Without a national federation to support him, Rekabi funded his own career and fought to try to overcome gender discrimination.
In a 2016 interview with Euronewsshe said friends would cheer her on and urged her to keep up the sport, “but it’s true that every time people ask me what I’m doing, they’re amazed,” she said.
“But on a positive note, it’s helping other girls get out and play this sport.”
Another obstacle pointed out by Rekabi that can sometimes prevent her from climbing is the hijab she wears. However, she told Euronews she was trying to circumvent the issue without compromising her religious belief.
“At first it was a little weird for the other athletes, who were curious about a girl wearing a head scarf and an outfit that covered her arms and legs while competing indoors in such a hot temperature. .”
“Of course when it’s hot the hijab becomes a problem. In competition, your body needs to evacuate the heat. But we tried to create an outfit ourselves that respects the hijab and is compatible with the practice of the sport of rock climbing.”
What happened during the Seoul competition?
Rekabi did not wear a hijab in Sunday’s final at the International Federation of Sport Climbing Asian Championships, according to the Seoul-based Korean Alpine Federation, the organizers of the event.
Federation officials said Rekabi wore a hijab in his first appearances at the week-long Climbing event. She wore just a black headband when competing on Sunday, her dark hair pulled back into a ponytail; she had a white jersey with the Iranian flag as a logo on it.
Rekabi was a member of Iran’s 11-member delegation, which includes eight athletes and three coaches, at the event, according to the federation.
Federation officials said they were not initially aware of Rekabi competing without the hijab, but looked into the matter after receiving inquiries about him. They said the event had no rules requiring female athletes to wear headscarves or not. However, Iranian women who compete abroad under the Iranian flag always wear the hijab.
In a statementthe International Sport Climbing Federation said it had been in contact with Rekabi, and “will continue to monitor developments upon his arrival”.
“It is important to emphasize that athlete safety is paramount to us and we support all efforts to ensure the safety of a valued member of our community in this situation,” the federation said, adding that it “supports fully” the athletes’ choices and expressions of freedom. word.
Rekabi has finished on the podium three times at the Asian Championships, winning a silver and two bronze for his efforts.