Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi, who made headlines worldwide for competing without a hijab at the IFSC Asian Championships in Seoul last weekend in an apparent anti-regime protest, has returned to Iran. She was welcomed at Tehran's main airport at around 5 a.m. local time by hundreds of supporters, including many from the Iranian climbing community. The IFSC has issued a statement confirming that Rekabi has 'safely arrived' in Iran, citing 'clear assurance' that she will not suffer any consequences for her actions.
Elnaz Rekabi--the Iranian climber who refused to wear compulsory hejab while competing--is greeted as a hero at 5AM at Tehran airport after her plane lands from Seoul. Imprisoning her will only increase the Iranian nation's enormous admiration for her. pic.twitter.com/7LFUk8hTTJ— Karim Sadjadpour (@ksadjadpour) October 19, 2022
The incident came during ongoing protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in custody after her arrest for "improper" covering, amid president Raisi's tightening of restrictions on women's dress and civil rights. Women are protesting the regime by flouting hijab rules and risking death by reported police brutality, as over 200 people are believed to have been killed and thousands more detained or injured.
Speaking to Iranian state media outside Tehran's Imam Khomeini airport and wearing a cap and hoody, Rekabi, 33, repeated her previous claim—possibly state-forced, as suggested by experts including senior BBC Persian reporter Parham Ghobadi—that her lack of hijab was a "completely unintentional" accident after an unexpected call to climb while preparing in a "women's-only" holding area. "Because I was busy putting on my shoes and my gear, it caused me to forget to put on my hijab and then I went to compete," she said.
Rekabi added: "I came back to Iran with peace of mind although I had a lot of tension and stress. But so far, thank God, nothing has happened." She also denied rumours that she had been missing for 24-48 hours.
Iranian sport climber #Elnaz_Rekabi has returned to the country after competing without hijab.— Parham Ghobadi (@BBCParham) October 19, 2022
Was her interview with the Iranian state TV a "forced confession"?
Part 1@LucyHockingsBBC pic.twitter.com/SsXd6wU41z
Supporters shouted "Elnaz, Ghahreman!", "Elnaz, hero!" as her taxi drove away from the airport through the crowd.
Following discussions with Rekabi, the IOC and Iranian sports authorities, the IFSC released an official statement. It reads:
The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC), and the Iran Mountaineering and Sport Climbing Federation (IMSCF) can confirm that Elnaz Rekabi has safely arrived in Tehran, Iran, and is now with her family.
The Iranian National Olympic Committee has also confirmed the news.
A joint meeting took place in Seoul, South Korea, today, between the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the IFSC, and the Iranian National Olympic Committee, during which the IOC and the IFSC received clear assurance that Ms Rekabi will not suffer any consequences and will continue to train and compete. After the meeting, a phone conversation also took place between her, the IOC, the IFSC, and the Iranian National Olympic Committee.
The IFSC, in close coordination with the IOC, the Iranian National Olympic Committee, and the IMSCF, will continue monitoring the situation and will wait for her to return to the IFSC circuit of events at the beginning of the 2023 season.
However, this afternoon, a journalist at Iran International TV shared a tweet quoting Iran's Sport's Minister, Hamid Sadjadi, as saying that 'the federation and the government' are investigating Rekabi's action.
Since a video of her hijab-free climb in the Combined finals—in which she placed 4th—was published online on Sunday evening (UKC News), Rekabi's whereabouts and situation were temporarily unknown, prompting concerns for her safety.
The BBC Persian service reported that she had been uncontactable since Sunday evening, and an "informed source" had revealed to them that her passport and phone had been confiscated.
A BBC World Service journalist reported that Rekabi had left her Seoul hotel and was travelling to Tehran on a plane, 'two days earlier than expected', although reports by Iranian authorities and insiders denied this, claiming that Rekabi and her teammates were returning home as originally planned and citing 'fake news, lies and false information' in a tweet.
In Seoul, South Korean human rights lawyers protested outside the Iran embassy, where some rumours suggested that Rekabi had been held, shouting "disgraceful" in Persian in unison with Iranian protesters.
On Tuesday morning, a message was posted to Elnaz Rekabi's Instagram stories in Persian, in which she apologised for her lack of hijhab claimed that she had experienced 'a problem with her clothing' due to competition organisation issues. The translation read:
'Dear and honourable compatriots of Iran, I am Elnaz Rekabi, with a history of twenty years as a member of the national mountaineering team, while apologising for the concerns I caused, I must announce that because of sensitivities during the finals of the Asian Championships held in South Korea due to inappropriate timing and unpredictable calling in order to climb the wall, I inadvertently had a problem with my clothing. Now on schedule I am going back to Iran with the team as already decided.'
Given the recent spate of state-coerced false confessions during the protests, online commentators raised concerns about the veracity of the statement, and of Rekabi's welfare.
The IFSC released an official statement, announcing that they were "fully aware" of the situation and that they had been in contact with Rekabi and Iranian Climbing Federation in order to "establish the facts" amid conflicting reports. The federation added that they would continue to monitor the situation after her return to Iran.
'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,' the statement read. 'The IFSC fully support the rights of athletes, their choices, and expression of free speech.'
The Financial Times reported that Elnaz Rekabi's brother had spoken to the Revolutionary Guards-affiliated Tasnim News Agency, claiming that his sister did not violate hijab law as she was wearing a black headband while climbing. "My sister is coming back to Iran because she is a child of Iran and loves this land," Davoud Rekabi said. "We shall have a press conference after she arrives when she can explain more about what had happened."
The I. R. Iran Mountaineering & Sport Climbing Federation published a news report with the headline 'Women's Combined Asian Mountaineering Championship; Elnaz Rekabi 4th in Asia," but did not mention her lack of hijab in the article. Rekabi was instead pictured in a past competition, wearing a hijab.
In 2021, Rekabi won bronze in the IFSC Combined World Championships, becoming the first Iranian woman to win a medal in an IFSC event. Rekabi also achieved three podium finishes at the IFSC Climbing Asian Championships, earning one silver and two bronze medals.
Rekabi is only the second Iranian woman in history to compete without wearing hijab since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, after boxer Sadaf Khadem became the first to shun the hijab during an international match in France in 2019. Khadem remains in France following the issue of an arrest warrant and her subsequent exile from Iran.
Rekabi's high-profile action has attracted widespread support from the climbing world and beyond online, inspiring artwork, hashtags and messages condemning the actions of the Islamic Republic's regime against women.
Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, women in Iran must adhere to the regime's laws on hijab, a mandatory dress code requiring the covering of the hair and body, both in Iran and when officially representing the country abroad, alongside other oppressive personal, social and professional restrictions. An agency known as the Guidance Patrol or morality police is tasked with enforcing Iran's Islamic code of conduct for women in public, ensuring that hijab is observed.
In August, president Ebrahim Raisi signed a decree to further limit women's clothing options and increase monitoring. On 16 September, the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in police custody following her arrest for "improper" hijab ignited civil protests across Iran calling for the removal of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and an end to the Islamic Republic and its oppressive regime.
Authorities have responded to the protests violently in reported cases, using undue force and disrupting Internet access across Iran. Human rights watch group HRANA reports that over 240 people have died in protests to date—including 32 minors—and thousands more have been injured or detained.
Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow!
Elnaz has got guts and courage by the truck load! :-)
I read that the plane actually landed around 1am but she didn't emerge until 5am.
The cynic in me thinks the authorities, having seen hundreds of people waiting for her, were trying to gauge the time when there would be fewest people and least social media impact.
Not sure about that. Found her flight on Skyscanner after someone told me the arrival time and lots of journalists were tracking it on FlightRadar overnight, which confirmed the 3:40 flight (it landed a bit early at 3:11 a.m.). She was slow to get out, though, it seems.
Very good news
It's almost as if a media frenzy was whipped up over nothing but for propaganda.