An Iranian rock climber who drew world headlines and considerations after competing overseas with out the Islamic Republic’s obligatory scarf arrived dwelling early Wednesday to cheering crowds.
Elnaz Rekabi’s return from a contest in South Korea sparked alarm amongst activists and rights teams, with the nation gripped by a lethal crackdown on anti-government protests triggered by the loss of life of a younger lady in a hospital three days after being arrested by the morality police.
In a video broadcast by the state-run IRNA information company, the 33-year-old athlete appeared to repeat an earlier clarification posted to her Instagram that mentioned she had unintentionally competed with out a hijab.
Chatting with journalists in Farsi at an airport within the capital, Tehran, Rekabi mentioned: “I used to be busy placing on my footwear and kit after I was referred to as to compete and I forgot to placed on the hijab I had with me.”
She might be seen within the video sporting a baseball cap with a black hoodie overlaying her hair.
Separate movies posted on social media and verified by NBC Information present a crowd clapping and chanting at a terminal on the Imam Khomenei Worldwide Airport and once more as a white van drives previous.
The circumstances underneath which the interview and the Instagram message had been delivered stay unclear. NBC Information couldn’t independently confirm if Rekabi wrote the message herself.
The Islamic scarf has turn out to be a spotlight of weeks of social unrest which have engulfed Iran and developed into essentially the most severe problem to the federal government in additional than a decade.
Rekabi didn’t put on the hijab throughout Sunday’s closing on the Worldwide Federation of Sport Climbing’s Asia Championship, wherein she completed fourth.
On condition that feminine athletes from Iran at all times put on a hijab whereas competing overseas and Rekabi had beforehand accomplished so herself, her look with out the scarf was interpreted by many observers as a show of solidarity with the protesters at dwelling.
Human rights teams expressed rising fears for her security Tuesday because it emerged she was flying dwelling from South Korea.
Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, the director of the Norway-based group Iran Human Rights, mentioned in an emailed assertion that he was very involved for Rekabi and suspects that Iranian authorities had “compelled” her to say that she didn’t put on her hijab by chance.
“Based mostly on our information of the Islamic Republic, they are going to go very far to set an instance for different athletes and younger women basically, in order that this type of disobedience doesn’t occur once more,” he mentioned.
The Iranian Embassy in Seoul mentioned in a tweet, written in English, that Rekabi had departed from the South Korean capital for Iran “together with the opposite members of the group.”
“The Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in South Korea strongly denies all of the pretend, false information and disinformation concerning Ms. Elnaz Rekabi,” it added.
Rekabi just isn’t the primary feminine Iranian concerned in competitions overseas to face points after showing in apparel that violates the costume code.
Boxer Sadaf Khadem was compelled to remain in France after she mentioned Iranian authorities issued a warrant for her arrest when she competed with out a scarf and in shorts in 2019.
Iranian chess referee Shohreh Bayat who fled to the UK in 2020 and claimed asylum after being accused by an Iranian official of not sporting her scarf appropriately whereas refereeing that yr’s Ladies’s World Chess Championship in Shanghai.
“What occurred to me was that after one spherical, one spherical of the match, I acquired a message that the hijab just isn’t correct,” Bayat mentioned in an interview Tuesday. “The subsequent day I made a decision to struggle towards it,” she mentioned, explaining she determined to push the scarf again “to ship the message that go away me alone as a result of I’m tolerating it already with problem.”
Bayat, 35, mentioned she noticed parallels in Rekabi’s scenario, particularly after the Instagram publish.
“This was precisely the identical factor that occurred to me,” she mentioned, explaining that she was compelled to jot down an apology for not sporting the hijab appropriately. “This was the very first thing that I used to be requested to do, to jot down an apology letter on Instagram.”
Bayat additionally mentioned that she was instructed to provide interviews to 2 Iranian state-run information businesses and accountable photographers for publishing the pictures exhibiting her not sporting the hijab appropriately. “They usually instructed me to inform that every one my achievements was due to the Islamic regime,” she mentioned.
The Worldwide Federation of Sport Climbing mentioned in a assertion Tuesday that it has been in touch with Rekabi and the Iranian Climbing Federation.
“There’s plenty of info within the public sphere concerning Ms Rekabi and as a company we’ve got been making an attempt to ascertain the details,” the assertion mentioned. “Our understanding is that she is returning to Iran, and we are going to proceed to watch the scenario because it develops on her arrival.”
The group added that it supported any efforts to “maintain a valued member of our group secure on this scenario,” whereas emphasizing athletes’ rights and expression of free speech.
Helena Skinner, Meagan Fitzgerald and Yuliya Talmazan contributed.