Mountain of fears for Iranian climber who competed abroad without a hijab

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photo: Rhea Kang/AP

After returning to Iran on Tuesday, fears are mounting for the safety and whereabouts of a 33-year-old Iranian mountaineer who competed in South Korea over the weekend without covering her hair. Rights groups, activists and fans are concerned about the athlete’s fate amid conflicting reports and a potentially worrying Instagram post.

On Sunday, Elnaz Rekabi competed at the International Federation of Sport Climbing Asian Championships in Seoul – without a headscarf. Iranian law states that female athletes must continue to follow the dress code at international events. protests against the country’s strict rules for women’s clothing five weeksand the authorities continue their violent crackdown.

Footage of Rekabi climbing, with her hair in a ponytail and a thick headband around her head, quickly went viral — especially since Rekabi has always competed in a hijab, fueling the belief that she used it as a political stance gave up. On Monday, the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran tweeted the footage, calling Rekaki’s actions “brave” and noting that she has become “the second Iranian athlete to shun the government.” #Iran‘s compulsory hijab rule.” (Boxer Sadaf Khadem competed in France in 2019 without hijab and with a leotard showing her arms and legs. She stayed in France, where she still lives today, because she is virtually safe was that she would be arrested if she returned to Iran.)

Since the competition, Rekabi’s passport and mobile phone are said to have been confiscated, as have friends said BBC Persian that they had lost contact with her. According to authorities in both countries, Rekabi apparently left South Korea for Iran on Tuesday morning, although previous reports suggested she was flown home on Sunday after the event. IranWire – the website founded by Maziar Bahari, the journalist whose imprisonment in Iran inspired that of John Stewart rose water—claimed that Rekabi would likely be sent to Evin Prison. The country’s notorious prison for political prisoners was also the site of one suspicious fire at the weekend in which at least eight people died.

“The Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in South Korea strongly denies all fake news, lies and misinformation about Ms. Elnaz Rekabi,” the embassy wrote in a tweet on Tuesdayalong with a photo of Rekabi wearing a hijab.

The athlete also posted an apology statement in Farsi on her Instagram story on Tuesday, which read, “Sorry for the worry I’ve caused.” She added that she went without a hijab due to “improper timing and an unpredictable request to climb.” started. But it’s unclear if Rekabi wrote the message herself or if she was coerced – a common tactic Iranian authorities use with activists and political prisoners.

A short interview with Davoud Rekabi, who says he is Rekabi’s brother, was published on a “semi-official” Iranian news site. according to to Al Jazeera. “Unfortunately, some are trying to ride waves [take advantage] on this issue,” he said, adding that Rekabi is not trying to flout Iranian law.

The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) said it is in contact with Rekabi and Iranian officials. “It is important to emphasize that the safety of athletes is of the utmost importance to us and we support all efforts to protect a valued member of our community in this situation,” they said in a statement. “The IFSC fully supports the rights of athletes, their choices and their freedom of expression.”

Since the death of on September 16, over 200 protesters have been killed and at least 40 journalists arrested Mahsa Amini sparked nationwide protests against the treatment and oppression of women in Iran. The government shut down the internet, stormed universities and arrested thousands. Despite the crackdown, protests raged at what is believed to be the biggest challenge to the country’s theocratic government in years. Women continue to cut their hair, burn their hijabs and stand up under the slogan “Woman. Life. Freedom.” Mountain of fears for Iranian climber who competed abroad without a hijab

Adam Bradshaw

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