Elnaz Rekabi, the Iranian sports climber who represented Iran at the IFSC Asian Climbing Championship finals in South Korea without the mandatory hijab returned to Iran in the early hours on October 19th.
Videos shared online showed jubilant crowds cheering “Hero, hero!” as they impatiently awaited Elnaz’s arrival. The live stream covering the finals showed a calm and collected Elnaz approaching the climbing wall. Amongst the other female competitors, this didn’t appear out of the ordinary until it was announced that she was representing the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Elnaz’s climb, sans hijab, sparked a significant level of international attention, creating realistic concerns for her well being. Last month, Zhina (Mahsa) Amini was brutally beaten and killed for “bad” hijab by Iran’s morality police, fuelling nationwide protests.
The hijab is mandatory for all female athletes in Iran, recognising Elnaz’s decision to compete without hijab as a heroic act of solidarity with the women of Iran. This brave act comes amidst the 5th week of nationwide protests against the government murder of Zhina (Mahsa) Amini.
After the competition, news of Elnaz being reported as missing emerged. Some online sources claimed that her passport and phone were confiscated after the competition.
On October 18th, after a short period of silence, an Instagram story was shared from Elnaz’s account, in which she apologizes for not wearing her headscarf. The story further attributes the act as a mere accident as a result of “poor timing” and an “unpredictable call” to climb that resulted in her scarf unintentionally being compromised.
With the Islamic Republic’s long history of forced confessions, Elnaz’s dubious apology has sounded alarms for her safety in Iran.
As Elnaz enters the airport in a hoodie and a baseball cap, Iran’s state television interview her, during which she repeats replicates the narrative shared on her Instagram story, “it was an accident.”
A picture shared on social channels later the same day as Elnaz’s shows her meeting with Hamid Sajjadi, the current Minister of Sports and Youth.
People all over the world have expresed concern for Elnaz’s safety. Members of a climbing gym in Freiburg, Germany declared their support for Elnaz in a group photo shared on October 19th, holding up “Woman, Life, Freedom” posters and a banner with the hashtag, “#SaveElnazRekabi.” A statement shared with Zamaneh on behalf of the group reads:
Elnaz Rekabi is the first Iranian woman to win a medal at the International Federation of Sport Climbing World Championships. She placed fourth in the Seoul Asian Games after South Korea and Japan.