An Iranian competitive climber competed at a major event without a headscarf — sparking serious fears for her safety amid reports she’d been forced to fly home early.
Elnaz Rekabi, 33, was hailed as a “hero” and went viral online for forgoing a head covering at the Asian Championships in Seoul on Sunday — in what was taken to be the latest protest at the death in custody of a 22-year-old woman accused of violating the same strict hijab law.
Supporters had planned to greet her off her flight home scheduled later this week — just for her to go “missing,” according to BBC Persia presenter Rana Rahimpour.
“Family and friends could not reach her, and then we found out she was put on a flight by Iranian officials” who also confiscated her passport and phone, Rahimpour said.
“There are concerns about her safety,” the well-connected reporter said.
Sources even told IranWire that Rekabi would be immediately transferred to Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, the site of a massive fire this weekend that killed at least eight prisoners.
A source told the outlet that “Elnaz made her decision to appear without a hijab around a month ago and knew that she was going to compete without the mandatory hijab.”
Rahimpour also insisted it was “an act of defiance against the rules of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
However, amid concerns for her safety, a statement appeared on Rekabi’s social media apologizing for “all the concerns I have caused” — and insisting she’d “unintentionally” competed without her hijab.
“I am currently on my way back to Iran alongside the team based on the pre-scheduled timetable,” it added, despite the flight being two days earlier than expected.
The questionable statement “has created even more concerns, because it looks like she is under a lot of pressure,” the BBC’s Rahimpour insisted.
The drama came after several weeks of protests over the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, after she was arrested in Tehran for allegedly violating the dress rules.
The demonstrations represent the most-serious challenge to Iran’s theocracy since the mass protests surrounding its disputed 2009 presidential election.
Rekabi’s supporters described her as a “hero,” posting images of her climbing up the letters of the protest slogan “Woman. Life. Freedom.”
“A brave young Iranian woman! We need the world to stand with women of Iran and condemn what is happening there,” tweeted Iranian-American entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari who flew to space as a tourist in 2006.
In a tweet, the Iranian Embassy in Seoul denied “all the fake, false news and disinformation” regarding Rekabi’s departure on Tuesday.
The Seoul event’s organizers, the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC), said it had also been in contact with the Iranian Climbing Federation.
“Our understanding is that she is returning to Iran, and we will continue to monitor the situation as it develops on her arrival,” it said in a statement.
“Athletes’ safety is paramount for us and we support any efforts to keep a valued member of our community safe in this situation,” the statement added.
“The IFSC fully support the rights of athletes, their choices, and expression of free speech”.
With Post wires
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