Elnaz Rekabi back in Iran after competing without hijab


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates –

Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi returned to Tehran early Wednesday after competing in South Korea without sporting a scarf, an act extensively seen as assist for anti-government demonstrators amid weeks of protests over the Islamic Republic’s necessary hijab.

After touchdown, Rekabi gave a cautious, deadpan interview to Iran’s hard-line state tv, saying that going without a hijab had been an “unintentional” act on her half. However, a whole bunch gathered outdoors Imam Khomeini International Airport — together with girls not sporting the hijab — and cheered for “Elnaz the Champion,” casting Rekabi as an inspiration for his or her continued protests.

The future Rekabi faces after returning residence stays unclear. Supporters and Farsi-language media outdoors of Iran have apprehensive about Rekabi’s security after her return, particularly as activists say the demonstrations have seen safety forces arrest 1000’s to date.

The differing reception for Rekabi exhibits the rising fissures in Iranian society as nationwide protests sparked by the Sept. 16 dying of a 22-year-old girl are in their fifth week. Mahsa Amini was detained by the nation’s morality police over her clothes — and her dying has prompted girls to take away their hijabs in public.

The demonstrations, drawing school-age kids, oil staff and others to the streets in over 100 cities, characterize the most-serious problem to Iran’s theocracy for the reason that mass protests surrounding its disputed 2009 presidential election.

That Rekabi, 33, competed without her hijab in Seoul through the finals of the International Federation of Sport Climbing’s Asia Championship prompted her rapid embrace by these supporting the demonstrations that progressively embrace requires the overthrow of the nation’s theocracy.

But sports activities in Iran, from soccer leagues to Rekabi’s aggressive climbing, broadly function beneath a collection of semi-governmental organizations. Women athletes competing at residence or overseas, whether or not taking part in volleyball or working monitor, are anticipated to maintain their hair coated as an indication of piety. Iran, in addition to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, make such head coverings necessary for ladies.

That made Rekabi’s public look on Sunday without one a lightning-rod moment. On touchdown at Imam Khomeini International Airport early Wednesday, she wore a black baseball cap and a black hoodie overlaying her hair. A person handed her flowers.

At first, Rekabi repeated an evidence posted earlier to an Instagram account in her title, saying her not sporting the hijab was “unintentional.” The Iranian authorities routinely pressures activists at residence and overseas, usually airing what rights group describe as coerced confessions on state tv — the identical cameras she addressed on her arrival back residence.

Rekabi mentioned she was in a women-only ready space previous to her climb.

“Because I used to be busy placing on my footwear and my gear, it brought on me to neglect to placed on my hijab after which I went to compete,” she mentioned.

She added: “I got here back to Iran with peace of thoughts though I had numerous stress and stress. But to date, thank God, nothing has occurred.”

The somber scene then gave option to considered one of a jubilant crowd outdoors the terminal. Videos on-line, similar to identified options of the airport, present these gathered chanting Rekabi’s title and calling her a hero. Footage confirmed her waving from inside a van.

The semiofficial ISNA information company later reported that she met with Sports Minister Hamid Sajjadi, saying he inspired her to proceed competing.

Rekabi left Seoul on a Tuesday morning flight. The BBC’s Persian service, which has intensive contacts inside Iran regardless of being banned from working there, quoted an unnamed “knowledgeable supply” as saying Iranian officers seized each Rekabi’s cell phone and passport. BBC Persian additionally mentioned she initially had been scheduled to return on Wednesday, however her flight apparently had been moved up unexpectedly.

IranWire, one other web site specializing in the nation based by Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari who as soon as was detained by Iran, advised that Rekabi may instantly be taken to Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison, the place dissidents are held. A large hearth there over the weekend killed at the least eight prisoners.

Later on Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee mentioned it held a joint assembly with the International Federation of Sport Climbing and Iranian officers. The IOC mentioned it obtained “clear assurances that Ms Rekabi won’t endure any penalties and can proceed to coach and compete.” However, different athletes have confronted harassment amid the demonstrations.

The IOC described Rekabi as being along with her household and mentioned she joined a name with officers.

The Iranian Embassy in Seoul had denied “all of the faux, false information and disinformation” concerning Rekabi’s departure. But as a substitute of posting a photograph of her from the Seoul competitors, it posted a picture of her sporting a scarf at a earlier competitors in Moscow, the place she took a bronze medal.

Rekabi wore a hijab throughout her preliminary appearances on the one-week climbing occasion in Seoul. She wore only a black headband when competing Sunday, her darkish hair pulled back in a ponytail; she had a white jersey with Iran’s flag as a emblem on it.

Footage of the competitors confirmed Rekabi relaxed as she approached the climbing and after she competed.

On Wednesday, a small group of protesters demonstrated in entrance of Iran’s Embassy in Seoul, with some girls reducing off locks of their hair, like others have in demonstrations worldwide since Amini’s dying.

So far, human rights teams estimate that over 200 individuals have been killed in the weekslong protests and the violent safety pressure crackdown that adopted. Iran has not provided a dying toll in weeks. Demonstrations have been seen in over 100 cities, in accordance with the group Human Rights Activists in Iran. Thousands are believed to have been arrested.

Gathering details about the demonstrations stays troublesome, nonetheless. Internet entry has been disrupted for weeks by the Iranian authorities. Meanwhile, authorities have detained at the least 40 journalists, in accordance with the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Iranian officers, together with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have repeatedly alleged the nation’s international enemies are behind the continuing demonstrations, somewhat than Iranians angered by Amini’s dying and the nation’s different woes.

Iranians have seen their life financial savings evaporate; the nation’s forex, the rial, plummeted and Tehran’s nuclear cope with world powers has been lowered to tatters.


Associated Press writers Ahn Young-joon in Seoul, South Korea, and Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.


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