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Iranian Mountaineer Faces Potential Arrest and Imprisonment for Competing Without Hijab

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Seoul, South Korea — A competitive Iranian mountaineer left South Korea on Tuesday after competing in an event in which his country climbed without a mandatory hijab, officials said. Persian media outside Iran have warned that he may have been forced to leave early by Iranian authorities and could face arrest at home, which Tehran quickly denied.

The decision of Elnaz Rekabi, who has won multiple medals in the competitions, to wear a headscarf or to give up her headscarf came as she entered the fifth week of protests, which resulted in the death of a 22-year-old woman in custody on 16 September. Mahsa Amini was detained by the country’s morality police for her clothes.

Iranian athlete Elnaz Rekabi competes in the Asian Championship held in South Korea.

The demonstrations that drew school-aged children, oil workers and others to the streets in more than 100 cities represent the most serious challenge to Iran’s theocracy since the mass protests surrounding the controversial 2009 presidential election.

In an Instagram post later attributed to Rekabi, she described her not wearing a hijab as “unintentional”, though it was not immediately clear whether she wrote the post or what her condition was at the time. The Iranian government routinely represses national and international activists, often broadcasting what rights groups describe as forced confessions on state television.

The Iranian Embassy in South Korea said Rekabi left Seoul by plane on Tuesday morning. Although it is prohibited from operating in Iran, the BBC’s Persian service, which has extensive connections in Iran, cited an anonymous “informed source” who said Iranian officials had confiscated Rekabi’s mobile phone and passport.

BBC Persian also said that he was originally scheduled to return on Wednesday, but apparently his flight was unexpectedly delayed.

IranWire, another website focusing on the country founded by the Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was once detained by Iran, claimed that Rekabi would be transferred to Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison soon after he arrived in the country. House Prison was the site of a massive fire that killed at least eight inmates this weekend.

In a tweet, the Iranian Embassy in Seoul denied “all fake, false news and disinformation” about Rekabi’s departure on Tuesday. But instead of posting a photo of her from the Seoul competition, she posted a photo of her wearing a headscarf at a previous competition in Moscow where she won a bronze medal.

Calls to the Iranian Embassy in Seoul on Tuesday went unanswered. According to the Seoul-based Korean Alpine Federation, organizers of the event, Rekabi did not wear a headscarf during the Asian Championship final of the International Sport Climbing Federation on Sunday. Federation officials said Rekabi wore a headscarf in her first matches. a weekly climbing event. She wore only a black headband when she raced on Sunday, her dark hair tied in a ponytail; He was wearing a white swimsuit with the Iranian flag on it.

Later, the Instagram post, written in the first person, made an apology on behalf of Rekabi. The post blamed a sudden call for him to wall-climb the competition – although footage from the competition showed Rekabi relaxing as he approached and after the race. He also tried to describe Tuesday’s return trip to Iran as “on schedule”.

According to the federation, Rekabi took part in Iran’s 11-person delegation, consisting of eight athletes and three coaches. Federation officials said that they were not aware at first that Rekabi was competing without a headscarf, but that they were investigating the case after questions were asked about her.

They said the event had no rules regarding whether female athletes should wear a headscarf or not. However, Iranian women competing abroad under the Iranian flag always wear the hijab.

“As far as we understand, he is returning to Iran and we will continue to monitor the evolving situation upon his arrival,” the International Sport Climbing Federation, which oversees the event, said in a statement. Said. “It is important to emphasize that the safety of athletes is paramount to us and in this case we support every effort to keep a valued member of our community safe.”

The federation said it was in contact with both Rekabi and Iranian officials, but declined to provide details on the content of those calls when it reached the Associated Press.

The federation also declined to discuss the Instagram post attributed to Rekabi and the allegations in it. Later on Tuesday, South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs acknowledged that the Iranian athlete and his team had left the country without detail. Rekabi, 33, has been on the podium at the Asian Championships three times and won one silver and two bronze medals for her efforts.

So far, human rights groups estimate that more than 200 people have died in the protests and the violent security force crackdown that followed. Iran has not released the death toll for weeks. Demonstrations were seen in more than 100 cities, according to the Human Rights Activists group in Iran. Thousands are believed to have been arrested.