Elnaz Rekabi returns to Iran amid fears for her safety

The professional climber may face persecution for defying Iranian hijab rules

Read time 3 mins

Published Oct 19, 2022

Hannah Mitchell BASE Digital Writer Hannah is a Lake District-based journalist and all-round outdoor lass with a particular fondness for rock faces.

Fears for the safety of 33 year old Elnaz Rekabi were sparked after the competition climber took part in the IFSC Asian Continental Championships on Sunday without a headscarf, in contravention of Iranian laws. Immediate concerns were raised for Rekabi for breaking the heavily-policed rules surrounding hijab, and it was feared she would face immediate persecution upon her return to Iran. It is confirmed that the athlete arrived back in the country’s capital of Tehran earlier today.

Reports as to Rekabi’s status and whereabouts have been conflicting and confused since her appearance at the competition. A source told BBC Persian that she was uncontactable as of Sunday evening having left her hotel two days before her scheduled departure, that she had had her passport and mobile phone confiscated, and was with an Iranian official. A tweet from Amnesty International expressed alarm at these reports, stating that if forcibly returned to Iran, Rekabi could face ‘arbitrary arrest, torture and other ill-treatment’.

Elnaz Rekabi at the 2021 IFSC World Championships in Moscow.

Iranian laws require women athletes to wear a headscarf when competing abroad.

 

 

Whilst her whereabouts was still unclear, a statement published on the climber’s Instagram story on Tuesday apologised for concern caused to the Iranian people, suggesting that her lack of headscarf had been accidental.

‘Due to bad timing, and the unanticipated call for me to climb the wall, my head covering inadvertently came off,’ the post read.

Rekabi then repeated this statement in an interview with state media early this morning upon her arrival at the airport in Tehran. Speculation as to the authenticity of the statement is rife, and it is thought that it may have been made under duress.

Rekabi is only the second Iranian athlete to break hijab law. In 2019, boxer Sadaf Khadem removed her headscarf to compete in an international competition in France in accordance with the country’s rules. A warrant was issued for her arrest by the Iranian regime, and she remains in France to this day for fear of reprisals.

Rekabi’s arrival in Tehran was heralded by crowds of people cheering and chanting her name, though there is still great concern for her welfare.

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iranian law states that women must cover their hair, arms and legs with loose clothing, and athletes representing Iran in competitions abroad must abide by the same rules. Rekabi has been hailed as a hero for her act of defiance as widespread anti-government protests have taken place across Iran in recent weeks. The protests were sparked by the death of 22 year old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini last month, whilst in the custody of the Iranian Guidance Patrol for alleged improper wearing of hijab.

Iranian women have publicly flouted hijab rules as part of the protests, burning their headscarves and cutting their hair in defiance of Iran’s oppressive regime. The ongoing demonstrations which represent a serious challenge to the ruling theocracy, have been met by brutal retaliation from Iranian police, and as many as 215 people including 27 children have been killed according to Iran Human Rights.

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