Elnaz Rekabi has arrived at Tehran airport to a cheering crowd after fears for her safety were raised. On Sunday she competed in the IFSC Combined finals in Seoul, taking fourth place. She did so without wearing a hijab – which is illegal according to Iranian law.
Yesterday we reported that Iranian Climber Elnaz Rekabi was flown home early from Seoul, and may have done so under duress. Not wearing a head covering while representing Iran in international competitions is illegal.
It’s also controversial in light of the current wave of protests against the hijab law that are happening all over Iran. They started when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in police custody after mistreatment. She was arrested by Iran’s “morality police” when they felt she wasn’t covering her hair properly.
This morning a crowd of hundreds gathered inside and out of Tehran airport to welcome Rekabi back, even though she arrived around 4 am. She was handed flowers and the crowd chanted “Elnaz is a heroine” as she left in a minivan.
In a short interview, Elnaz repeated the claim that she had only climbed without a hijab mistakenly, saying: “If I want to explain, I should say that everything conforms to what I have explained on the internet. It was completely unintentional. I think my Instagram story fully explained this”.
“I was unexpectedly called and I had to compete. I was busy putting on my shoes and technical gear and that caused me to forget putting on the hijab I had to be wearing. Then I went to compete”.
“Fortunately, I came back to Iran with peace of mind, although I went through a lot of tension and stress, so far, thank God, nothing has happened”.
Was Rekabi Coerced Into Making Statements?
She also appears to deny that she had been out of contact with her friends and family, or that they returned early, saying: “That didn’t happen. We’ve returned to Iran exactly as planned”.
This is all in line with the Instagram story she put out a couple of days ago. However, there are multiple sources saying that after the competition on Sunday, she was not contactable. Read yesterday’s article for full details.
It is alleged that the team were due to leave on Wednesday, but that their hotel was changed. It’s also alleged that Rekabi was lured to the Iranian embassy in Seoul and her passport and phone were taken.
After her climb without the hijab, she was praised on social media by Iranians who saw her act as symbolic. An anonymous source also previously said that she deliberately did not wear the hijab, knew what she was doing, and was fully aware of the symbolism in the simple act.
There were plans for a hero’s welcome upon her return, so bringing the flights forward and arriving early in the morning may well have been meant to avoid the publicity. We do not know if Elnaz Rekabi has since been sent to the notorious Evin prison as previously reported.
While we can only speculate on the real truth, it is well-known that the Iranian authorities punish those who do not wear the hijab. It’s also a fact that protestors have been beaten, imprisoned, killed, and tortured for speaking out.
Iran has a history of coercing statements to get convictions, as well as forcing family members involved in violence to make forced statements. Rekabi’s brother is a professional competition climber, and Rekabi’s husband and family live in the capital of Tehran.
We can only hope Rekabi is safe and has her freedom, even if she is unable to speak her mind or speak about her actions freely. The Seoul event is the last of the year, so it’s unlikely we’ll see her competing internationally again until at least March 2023.
We won’t know if she can still be a part of the national team and practice the sport we all love. The IFSC made a statement confirming they were aware of the situation and were contacting the Iranian team. They were also aware that she had returned to Iran.