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Elnaz Rekabi: Concerns grow for Iranian climber

Athlete has gone missing, with some reports suggesting the Iranian government may punish her
Elnaz Rekabi
Elnaz Rekabi
Deutsche Welle

Wesley Dockery   |   Published 18.10.22, 05:14 PM

 International alarm grew on Tuesday over the wellbeing of Iranian competitive climber Elnaz Rekabi after she competed without a hijab at an event in South Korea and is believed to have gone missing, according to multiple reports.

The 33-year-old athlete took part in the Asian Sport Climbing Championships in South Korea on Sunday where she did not wear Iran's mandatory headscarf. Concerns about her whereabouts come amid a crackdown on anti-government protests in Iran and a movement against the country's obligatory hijab policy.


What do we know so far?

The Iranian Embassy in South Korea claimed that Rekabi departed by plane from Seoul earlier on Tuesday. Yet, concerns are growing that she may face harsh punishment when she returns to her home country.   

Iranian citizen journalist website IranWire reported that Rekabi will be transferred to Evin Prison upon her arrival in Tehran. A fire recently broke out at this prison, killing at least eight inmates. 

Both IranWire and the BBC's Persian service reported that Iranian officials seized her phone and passport while in Seoul. The BBC said she was originally set to leave on South Korea on Wednesday, but her flight departure had been unexpectedly moved up.    

The Iranian Embassy in Seoul said it "strongly denies" the "fake news, lies and false information" being spread regarding the status of Rekabi.  

In a post on Rekabi's Instagram account, the athlete apologized on Tuesday for causing concern. She wrote that her decision to not wear the hijab during the competition was unintentional. She claimed she was returning to Iran with her team as scheduled.

It's unclear whether Rekabi was forced to post the Instagram story by Iranian officials or if she did it voluntarily.

The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) said in a statement it is "fully aware of the news regarding Iranian athlete Elnaz Rekabi." 

"Our understanding is that she returning to Iran, and we will continue to monitor the situation as it develops on her arrival," the statement added. "It is important to stress that athletes' safety is paramount for us and we support any efforts to keep a valued member of our community safe in this situation." 

Rekabi's defiance comes amid uprising 

The controversy surrounding Rekabi's whereabouts comes amid massive demonstrations in Iran against the regime's obligatory headscarf policy for women. These demonstrations were ignited by the September 16 killing of 22-year-old Jina Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by morality police for improper hijab wearing.

The demonstrations represent the greatest challenge to the regime it has faced in years, with Tehran carrying out mass arrests of protesters in response. The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran watchdog reported Tuesday that at least 215 people and 27 children have been killed in the current protests. 

The US, EU, UK, Canada and other countries have imposed new sanctions on Iran over rights violations amid the uprising. Tehran, meanwhile, sees the protests as an orchestrated attempt by the West to subvert its regime.

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