Iran’s Elnaz Rekabi, who competed without hijab, in Tehran : NPR

Iranian athlete Elnaz Rekabi competes in the Women’s Boulder & Lead final during the IFSC Climbing Asian Championships in Seoul, Sunday, October 16, 2022.

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Iranian athlete Elnaz Rekabi competes in the Women’s Boulder & Lead final during the IFSC Climbing Asian Championships in Seoul, Sunday, October 16, 2022.

Rhea Kang / AP

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Iranian mountaineer Elnaz Rekabi received a hero’s welcome when she returned to Tehran early Wednesday, after competing in South Korea without headscarves are mandatory for female athletes from the Islamic Republic.

Rekabi’s decision not to wear a headscarf during Sunday’s competition comes as protests sparked by the September 16 death in custody of a 22-year-old woman have entered their fifth week. Mahsa Amini was detained by the country’s ethics police for her clothes — and her death saw women remove their mandatory headscarves in public.

The protests, which drew school-age children, oil workers and others to the streets in more than 100 cities, are the most serious challenge to Iran’s theocracy since it began. Mass protests surrounding the 2009 presidential election are controversial.

Farsi supporters and media outside of Iran have worried about Rekabi’s safety after she chose to compete without a hijab.

An Instagram post on Tuesday on an account believed to be Rekabi’s described her failure to wear a hijab as “unintentional”, although it is unclear whether she wrote the post or her status. at that time. The Iranian government regularly puts pressure on activists at home and abroad, often broadcasting what human rights groups describe as forced confessions on state television.

Video shared online shows large crowds gathering early Wednesday at Imam Khomeini International Airport outside Tehran, the sanctioned nation’s main gateway out of the country. The videos, which correspond to known features of the airport, show crowds chanting 33-year-old Rekabi’s name and calling her a hero.

She entered one of the airport’s terminals, filmed by state television cameras, and donned a black baseball cap and a black hoodie that covered her hair. She received flowers from a viewer, and later repeated what she posted on Instagram that not wearing the hijab was “accidental” and her trip went as previously planned.

Rekabi described being in a women-only waiting area before she climbed the mountain.

She said: “Because I was busy wearing shoes and clothes, I forgot to put on a headscarf before going to the competition.

She added: “I returned to Iran with peace of mind despite a lot of stress and stress. But so far, thank God, nothing has happened.”

Outside, she appeared to step into a van and was slowly driven through the gathering crowd, who cheered her on. It is not clear where she went after that.

Rekabi left Seoul on a Tuesday morning flight. The BBC’s Persian service, which has extensive contacts inside Iran despite being banned from operating there, quoted an unnamed “informed source”, who described how Iranian officials had seized both the phone and the phone. Rekabi’s mobile phone and passport.

BBC Persian also said she was originally scheduled to return on Wednesday, but her flight appeared to have been unexpectedly rescheduled.

IranWire, another country-focused website founded by Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was once held by Iran, alleges that Rekabi will be immediately transferred to Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison after coming to this country. Evin prison was the site of a massive fire over the weekend that killed at least eight inmates.

In a tweet, the Iranian Embassy in Seoul denied “all fake news, false facts and misinformation” regarding Rekabi’s departure. But instead of posting a photo of her from the competition in Seoul, it posted an image of her wearing a headscarf at an earlier competition in Moscow, where she won a bronze medal.

Rekabi did not wear a hijab during Sunday’s final at the International Climbing Sports Federation Asian Championships.

Federation officials said Rekabi wore a headscarf during her first appearance at the week-long climbing event. She wore only a black headband when she competed on Sunday, her black hair tied in a ponytail; she has a white shirt with the flag of Iran as a symbol on it.

Video of the competition shows Rekabi relaxing as she approaches the climb and after she competes.

Iranian women competing abroad under the Iranian flag always wear a headscarf.

“We understand that she is returning to Iran, and we will continue to monitor the situation as it develops upon her arrival,” the International Sports Climbing Federation, which oversees the event, said. in a statement. “It’s important to stress that the safety of our athletes is paramount to us and we support any effort to keep a valued member of our community safe. us in this situation.”

The federation said it had contacted both Rekabi and Iranian officials, but declined to elaborate on the content of those calls when contacted by the Associated Press. The federation also declined to discuss Rekabi’s alleged Instagram post and the statements therein.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry acknowledged the departure of the Iranian athlete and her team from the country without announcing details.

Rekabi, 33, has stood on the podium three times at the Asian Championships, winning one silver and two bronze medals.

To date, human rights groups estimate that more than 200 people have been killed in the protests and the violent crackdown by security forces that followed. Iran has not released a death toll for weeks. According to the group Human Rights Activists in Iran, protests were witnessed in more than 100 cities. Thousands of people are believed to have been arrested.

However, gathering information about the protests remains difficult. Internet access was interrupted for weeks by the Iranian government. Meanwhile, authorities have arrested at least 40 journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have repeatedly accused the country’s foreign enemies of being behind the ongoing protests, rather than Iranians angry at the death. of Amini and other woes of the country.

Iranians have seen their life savings evaporate; The country’s currency, the rial, plummeted and Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers fell to pieces.


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