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Safety fears raised by Iranian climber who returned home without wearing a headscarf

SEOUL — A climber who wore a headscarf to compete in an international competition violated Iran’s strict dress code. She left for home Tuesday, where protests against the same dress code are ongoing. This raises concerns about her safety.

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According to the Iranian Embassy Seoul, Elnaz Rekabi (33), left South Korea for Iran along with other members. Rekabi stayed at the Seoul Garden Hotel with her team. She checked out of the hotel in the morning. Rekabi left Seoul Garden Hotel one day earlier than expected.

The fourth-place finisher in the Combined Boulder and Lead final of this year’s International Federation of Sport Climbing Asian Championships (IFSC), was the athlete. She had removed her headcover for part of competition. Iranian women are required to adhere to a strict dress code. Athletes representing Iran abroad must also wear a headscarf.

Rekabi was questioned by many international organizations when she returned from Iran. On Tuesday, Rekabi posted an Instagram message apparently to allay fears.

Elnaz Rekabi has more than 20 years experience in rock climbing and I am sorry for creating these concerns. My outfit was accidentally problematic due to the sensitive nature of the championship of Asia final competitions due to incorrect timing and an unforeseen invitation to climb.

Rekabi stated that she would be returning to Iran with her team, “accordingly to the previous schedule.”

Rights groups claim that Iranian authorities have a history requiring detainees, their family, and other high-profile figures to confess and make false statements under duress.

Many young Iranian women have removed their headscarves in protest of Mahsa Amini’s death at 22. He was being held for violating Iran’s dress code. After being beaten by the morality officers, Amini was placed in a coma. Rekabi’s decision not to wear a sweatband during the South Korean competition was widely understood as an act of protest and solidarity.

Pardis Minuchehr, a California State University at Long Beach professor of Middle Eastern literature and culture, said that “I don’t think any other [Iranian] woman athletes have done anything similar.” “This had symbolic and political significance.”

The Iranian security forces responded to protests against Amini’s murder with intimidation, repression. Demonstrations were also used to voice grievances about decades of political repression in Iran, poverty and discrimination against women.

According to rights groups, at least 92 civil society members — including lawyers, journalists, and activists — have been detained since September’s protests began.

The BBC’s Persian Service reported that she had not been able reach her friends before her message was published on Instagram. Other teenagers who were involved in the protests are also alleged to be killed by Iranian forces.

The International Federation of Sport Climbing released a statement Tuesday after Rekabi’s message. It stated that it is in contact with Rekabi as well as the Iranian Climbing Federation to try and “establish facts”.

“Our understanding is she is returning home to Iran,” said the statement, stressing the importance of the safety of the athletes to the federation.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Rekabi, who took home a bronze medal in the IFSC Climbing World Championships last year in Moscow, said that gender does not play a role in competitive climbing. She said that women can compete with men on the same level.

Sadaf Khadem (another Iranian female athlete) made headlines after she won a boxing match in 2019. She wore shorts, a sleeveless shirt and no head scarf. According to the athlete, she was tip-off to a warrant for arrest and now lives in France.

“Because everything’s so volatile and intense we don’t know what might happen” to Rekabi, stated Shahla Haeri, who is a Boston University professor and has studied law and gender in the Middle East. “What can be expected from Iran is impossible to predict.



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