- Iranian rock climber Elnaz Rekabi competed on Sunday without wearing a hijab.
- Her decision was seen as an act of solidarity with the women-led protests raging through Iran.
- Reports say she flew back to Tehran two days earlier than planned, prompting fears for her safety.
Iranian rock climber Elnaz Rekabi has flown back to Tehran from an international competition in South Korea two days earlier than planned, according to multiple reports, prompting rising concerns for her safety.
Rekabi made headlines on Sunday after she competed without wearing a customary hijab in a finals event at the International Federation of Sport Climbing’s Asian Championships.
Wearing the hijab is mandatory for female Iranian athletes when they compete overseas, and Rekabi’s declining to don the headscarf was widely seen as a historic show of solidarity with the women-led protests rocking Iran.
—Iran International English (@IranIntl_En) October 16, 2022
Rekabi’s choice during her Sunday climb had been expected to lead to severe repercussions upon her return to Iran. On Monday evening, BBC Persian reported that the athlete disappeared hours after contact with her friends was cut off. Her passport and mobile phone were also taken, per the outlet.
BBC Presenter Rana Rahimpour later tweeted that Rekabi was on a flight to Iran two days earlier than planned.
—Rana Rahimpour (@ranarahimpour) October 17, 2022
Iranian citizen journalism website IranWire reported that Rekabi will be directly transferred to Evin Prison once she arrives in Tehran, citing an unnamed source. Rekabi was summoned to the Iranian embassy in Seoul after being told by a sporting official that she would be granted safe travel to Iran, the source told the outlet.
“Elnaz made her decision to appear without a hijab around a month ago and knew that she was going to compete without the mandatory hijab,” the source said, according to IranWire.
“She did not seek asylum either because her husband is in Iran, and she wanted to return after the competition. She always makes such bold decisions,” they added, per the outlet.
The Iranian embassy in Seoul did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
A Persian-language report by IranWire also wrote that Rekabi’s brother, Daud Rekabi, was arrested by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps on Monday morning Iran time. Insider was unable to verify the authenticity of this report.
Both IranWire reports claim the Rekabi siblings were intercepted under the order of Mohammad Khosravivafa, the chairman of Iran’s Olympic Committee, who the outlet said received orders in turn from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The Iranian Olympic Committee did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Rekabi’s refusal to wear the hijab came amid weeks of protests in Iran over women’s rights. The movement resurged in September after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died after being taken into custody of Iran’s morality police. She had been arrested on accusation of not following Iran’s strict rules on wearing the hijab. Officials claim that Amini died of a sudden heart attack, but her family and witnesses say she was taken into a van and beaten.
The resulting protests have seen women marching on city streets and removing their headscarves in acts of defiance. While these rallies have grown to also encompass dissent over economic conditions in Iran, women’s rights have remained at the forefront of the movement.
—Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) September 17, 2022
Iranian leaders have since cracked down against the demonstrations, with security forces firing tear gas and arresting thousands.