An Iranian athlete competed without a hijab during a climbing competition in South Korea on Sunday, and now her future — and safety — are uncertain.
The controversy over Elnaz Rekabi not wearing the mandatory head covering comes amid ongoing protests in Iran after Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman, died in police custody after allegedly breaking hijab rules, according to the Deseret News.
In a historic move, Iranian athlete Elnaz Rekabi who represented Iran at the Asian Climbing Competitions finals in Seoul, competed without hijab, disobeying the Islamic Republic's restrictions for female athletes. pic.twitter.com/KvxE5NoQLi— Iran International English (@IranIntl_En) October 16, 2022
Now people are worried for Rekabi’s safety after she left South Korea on Tuesday, a day earlier than her scheduled departure, The Washington Post reported.
Rekabi’s friends were unable to contact her as her phone and passport were allegedly confiscated from her, a source told BBC Persia.
Afterwards, an apology for not wearing the mandatory head covering was posted to her Instagram, stating that the covering “inadvertently faced a problem” when she had to compete earlier than scheduled.
It is unclear, however, if she posted the apology herself, according to The Associated Press.
On Wednesday, Rekabi returned to Tehran, where she was greeted by cheering crowds at the airport.
The crowd cheers as Elnaz Rekabi, a female climber who competed without a hijab in Seoul and was later censured and forced into an apology by Iranian authorities, arrives at Tehran's Imam Khomeini Airport in the early hours of the morning.#مهسا_امینیpic.twitter.com/KoiEOzhrGh— Shayan Sardarizadeh (@Shayan86) October 19, 2022
In videos posted to social media, the crowd can be heard chanting “Elnaz the hero,” CNN reported.
In an interview with state media, she reiterated her claim that she did not intend to compete without wearing a hijab.
“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,” Elnaz said in the interview, per The Guardian.