Joining the ongoing protests by women against Iran's oppressive regime, professional climber Elnaz Rekabi removed her hijab in the Combined Finals at the IFSC Asia Continental Championship in Seoul yesterday in defiance of her country's strictly enforced dress code for women. Rekabi may now face persecution for her actions and the BBC reports that she has been uncontactable since Sunday evening. A video of her competing with an uncovered ponytail has been widely shared and supported online.
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. 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.
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.
Women in Iran are protesting by defiantly flouting hijab rules, burning headscarves and cutting their hair while chanting the Kurdish-origin slogan "Woman, Life, Freedom." Authorities have allegedly responded to the protests harshly 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.
As a result of her high-profile protest, which has attracted thousands of comments remarking on the bravery of her statement, Rekabi will likely face persecution upon her expected return to Tehran on Wednesday.
According to a BBC post, Rekabi has been uncontactable since Sunday evening and has reportedly been stripped of her mobile phone and passport. Seven other members of the Iranian national climibng team were also competing in Seoul. The BBC Persian news report translates as:
'An informed source told the BBC that friends of Elnaz Rekabi, the rock climber who participated in the Asian Championships in South Korea yesterday without hijab, have not been able to contact her since last night. BBC has been in contact with the Seoul Garden Hotel, the hotel where the Iranian team stayed, who informed that the members of the team have left the hotel since this morning (Monday, October 26) local time. The Iranian team was scheduled to return to the country on Wednesday. An informed source told the BBC that her passport and mobile phone were taken from her.'
Rekabi, 33 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.
In 2021, Rekabi won bronze in the IFSC Combined World Championships. She finished 4th in last weekend's Combined Boulder and Lead final in Seoul.
We will continue to update this story as updates on Elnaz's situation are received.
18/10/2022: Update: 00:12 - A BBC World Service journalist reports that Rekabi has left Seoul for Tehran on a plane, two days earlier than expected.
- A message was posted (possibly under duress/by another person) to Elnaz Rekabi's Instagram stories this morning in Persian:
'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.'
- Elnaz Rekabi's brother has spoken to the Tasnim News Agency. He said that his sister did not violate hijab law as she was wearing a black headband while climbing. A press conference will reportedly take place upon her return to Iran. - via the Financial Times.
- News report from the I. R. Iran Mountaineering & Sport Climbing Federation: 'Women's Combined Asian Mountaineering Championship; Elnaz Rekabi 4th in Asia.' There is no mention of her lack of hijab, and she is pictured in a hijab in an archive image.
- Reports suggest that Rekabi will land in Tehran early tomorrow morning, around 4 a.m. local time.