Elnaz Rekabi: Iranian climber posts Instagram ‘apology’ for competing without hijab

The athlete said not wearing a headscarf was ‘unintentional’

Maroosha Muzaffar
Tuesday 18 October 2022 19:20 BST
Iranian athlete who climbed without hijab reappears

Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi, who competed in an international contest without a headscarf, has posted a statement saying she had done so unintentionally.

The 33-year-old was shown scaling a wall without her head covered at a contest in South Korea while representing Iran, which has been swept by protests ignited by Mahsa Amini’s death in morality police custody.

It was widely assumed she was expressing support for the protests and there were fears for her safety after reports friends had been unable to contact her.

However, in a statement posted on her Instagram account, Rekabi said she was on her way back to Iran with the rest of the team.

She said she had decided to climb without a scarf because “there was poor scheduling and I was called to climb unpredictably”.

The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) said it had been in contact with Rekabi and was “trying to establish the facts”. The IFSC would continue to monitor the situation as it develops on her arrival in Iran. The safety of athletes was paramount and it supported their right to free speech, it added.

“I apologise about what I did to make you worry,” she wrote.

The apology came following claims she would be arrested on her return to Iran.

Iran has been convulsed by huge protests in recent weeks sparked by the death of Amini.

Ms Amini had been detained for “inappropriate attire”, prompting nationwide protests during which women have removed and burned headscarves. Demonstrations have quickly morphed into widespread anti-regime protests.

Earlier, BBC’s Persian service quoted “well-informed” sources and reported that it is believed that the climber’s passport and mobile phone had been confiscated. Her friends said they were unable to contact Ms Rekabi since Sunday, raising fears she was missing. These claims were denied by Iranian officials.

The Iranian team was originally supposed to return to the country on Wednesday.

Elnaz Rekabi’s Instagram account posted an apology for not wearing the hijab during the event (Elnaz Rekabi)

BBC World Service presenter Rana Rahimpour tweeted that Ms Rekabi was on a plane bound for Tehran and that “there are concerns about her safety”.

It was also reported that she might be arrested back home for defying the hijab rule for female athletes.

The Persian-language IranWire reported that Ms Rekabi will possibly be transferred directly from Khomeini International Airport to the Evin prison by the order of the Intelligence Organisation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Many protesters in recent weeks have been housed at Evin, where there was a blaze at the weekend.

Sources told the outlet that “we were told that the team would return to the country on Wednesday, but suddenly Elnaz Rekabi’s schedule was changed”.

Ms Rekabi’s brother, Davud, was also reportedly summoned on Monday by the Revolutionary Guards. IranWire said it seemed that the Intelligence Corps “have taken the athlete’s brother hostage”. This claim could not be corroborated by any other media.

Meanwhile, the Iranian embassy in Seoul denied all the allegations and said that Ms Rekabi “departed from Seoul to Iran, early morning of 18 October 2022, along with the other members of the team”.

“The Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in South Korea strongly denies all the fake, false news and disinformation regarding Ms Elnaz Rekabi.”

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