Iranian climbing ace breaks silence on hijab row and says veil 'dropped by mistake'

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An Iranian athlete who competed on Sunday without wearing a hijab has said her veil slipped by mistake and she is returning back home with her teammates after fears mounted over her whereabouts. Elnaz Rekabi, 33, attended the Asian Sport Climbing Championships in Seoul, South Korea, over the weekend, competing without a headscarf at the international event.

But she did not don a headscarf to compete in line with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s strict policies.

Women are required to wear a headscarf inside Iran, or when representing the country abroad.

The BBC Persian service quoted “well-informed sources”, who claimed the athlete’s phone and passport had been confiscated following the competition.

Friends reportedly told the outlet that they had been unable to reach Ms Rekabi since Sunday.

BBC Persian lead presenter, Rana Rahimpour, later tweeted that Ms Rekabi was on a flight to Tehran, “two days earlier than planned”.

She added: “There are concerns about her safety.”

Dr Nina Ansary, a prominent Iranian-American historian, then tweeted on Wednesday that Ms Rekabi would “be taken directly to Evin prison” upon her return to Iran.

IranWire, a small citizen outlet based in the country that has spoken against the regime, reported she would be taken from the airport to the detention centre after arriving ahead of the rest of the climbing team.

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An unnamed source also told IranWire: “Elnaz made her decision to appear without a hijab around a month ago and knew that she was going to compete without the mandatory hijab.”

They added: “She did not seek asylum either because her husband is in Iran, and she wanted to return after the competition.

“She always makes such bold decisions.”

Ms Rekabi’s refusal to wear the head covering to compete was widely considered a gesture in solidarity with domestic protests that have rocked Iran in recent weeks.

It is thought at least 122 people have been killed during the demonstrations sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

Ms Amini died in police custody in September, after she was detained by the regime’s morality police for failing to properly wear a hijab.

Women in Iran have been captured in dramatic footage burning their hijabs or cutting their hair as protests continue throughout the country.



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