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Iranian athlete who competed without hijab returns to Tehran; Insta post says she dropped headscarf by mistake

Amrutha Pagad
Amrutha PagadOct 19, 2022 | 14:03

Iranian athlete who competed without hijab returns to Tehran; Insta post says she dropped headscarf by mistake

Iranian athlete Elnaz Rekabi is in Tehran after going 'missing' from Seoul. Photo: Getty Images and @ifsclimbing/Twitter

Iran's anti-hijab protests have found a hero in pro-climber, Elnaz Rekabi, after a video showed her competing in South Korea without wearing a hijab. The 4 am crowds at Tehran airport on October 19 to greet the athlete was proof enough that her actions (intentional or not) have won the hearts of the people. However, the world is now worried about Rekabi's safety. 

What's the story? Iranian pro-climber Elnaz Rekabi created a stir by competing in the Asian Championships in South Korea without wearing a hijab or a headscarf. 

  • Iran mandates that women Iranian athletes wear a head covering abroad while representing the country. 
  • Rekabi's no-headscarf show came at a time when Iran has been rocked by massive anti-hijab protests following the alleged custodial death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. 

Where is Elnaz Rekabi now? Rekabi was reported "missing" by several Western media outlets after she "disappeared" from her hotel in South Korea. 

  • Subsequently, she was reported to have landed in Tehran. Social media videos also show her speaking to the local media. 
  • Iranian embassy in Seoul clapped back against reports of Rekabi going "missing" and "disappearing".

  • Soon after, a statement was put out on Rekabi's Instagram story addressing the hijab issue. The statement claimed that the incident was a "mistake" and that the headscarf came off by accident. 
  • However, media reports quoting friends of Rekabi have claimed that the statement might have been made by someone else or by Rekabi under duress.
Screenshot of the statement posted on Elnaz Rekabi's Instagram story. Photo: elnaz.rekabi/Instagram
  • Reports have also claimed that Rekabi's phone and passport have been confiscated. 
  • Claims have also been made that Iran's head of Climbing Federation, Reza Zarei, "tricked" Rekabi to come to the Iranian embassy in Seoul from where she was taken to Tehran.

  • It is currently unknown where Rekabi is. Some say she's in police custody and that her brother was taken "hostage" by the Iranian police and intelligence team.

Protests in Iran: 22-year-old Mahsa Amini's death under suspicious circumstances in September after her arrest by the moral police over her outfit and headscarf, has triggered widespread protests in Iran. 

  • Men, women, and children have taken to the streets to protest against Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's government over dress code and other restrictions placed on women along with several other issues plaguing the country.
  • At least 222 people have reportedly been killed in the recent protests, Iran's Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) estimates. 
  • Reports have emerged that a 16-year-old girl was beaten to death by security forces after she refused to sing an anthem praising Khamenei's regime during raids on her school.

  • The protests are being described as the biggest challenge to the Islamic regime of Iran since the revolution in 1979. 

As for Elnaz Rekabi, it still remains unknown whether the athlete intentionally chose to not wear a headscarf during the championship or whether it was an accident. Her status also remains unknown. 

The India connect: Hijab, a piece of clothing worn to cover the head by Muslim women, is at the centre of controversy not just in Iran, but also in India. 

  • In the south Indian state of Karnataka, a "ban" on hijab in schools has stirred controversy. While the Karnataka High Court upheld the decision to let schools decide whether to allow or disallow hijabs inside their premises, the Supreme Court has delivered a split verdict
  • While Justice Hemant Gupta dismissed the appeals against the Karnataka HC, Justice Dhulia said wearing or not wearing the hijab is ultimately a matter of personal choice. 
  • The case has now been referred to the Chief Justice of India. 

In either case, the government and society are busy telling women how to dress, dismissing their individual voices. 

Last updated: October 19, 2022 | 15:22
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