Iranian rock climber given hero’s welcome at airport after competing without hijab

An Iranian woman who climbed without a hijab at an international competition in South Korea has returned to Iran, as Iranian groups based abroad raised alarms about her fate.

Elnaz Rekabi, 33, competed without a hijab during the International Federation of Sport Climbing’s Asian Championships in Seoul on Sunday. Footage of her sporting a headband with her hair in a ponytail while competing quickly spread across social media.

State news agency IRNA reported that Rekabi arrived in Tehran early on Wednesday morning. Footage of her arriving at Imam Khomeini International Airport was also posted to social media. She was photographed speaking to the press as well.

Elnaz Rekabi is shown arriving in Tehran in a still from a video after competing without a hijab. “Elnaz the hero” was being called out as people gathered both inside and outside the airport and posted more videos to social media.

Whether Rekabi is under detention or facing repercussions is unclear.

Nationwide protests demanding more liberties for women are taking place in Iran following the death of a 22-year-old woman who was detained for wearing her headscarf in an inappropriate manner.

A problem with her hair covering was unintentionally created when she was unexpectedly called to climb the wall, according to Rekabi’s Instagram post on Tuesday.

“Bad timing and being unexpectedly called to climb the wall created a problem with my head covering,” she wrote.

The IG post apologised for the angst he had caused, saying he would return to Iran on schedule with the team.

In an interview with state media IRNA upon her arrival in Tehran on Wednesday, she said she had ‘accidentally’ competed without a hijab.

When the interviewer asked about the occurrence, Rekabi replied, ‘As I have already explained on my social media accounts, this incident happened accidentally.’

“I was unprepared for the event and ended up neglecting my hijab. I got distracted playing with the equipment,” she said.

When travelling abroad officially, women are required to wear a hijab in Iran.

When asked about his sister’s return to Tehran, Davoud Rekabi, her brother, told pro-regime Tasmin News Agency on Tuesday that “she will forever wear the national team’s uniform.”

“People took advantage of the fact that my sister was wearing a headband in addition to her hijab,” he said.

Elnaz, my sister, is an Iranian, and she will always play for her country,” he said.

Whether he made the comments under duress is unclear.

Rights groups are worried about Rekabi’s fate after an Iranian news website, IranWire, reported that she would be transferred to prison upon arrival.

Amnesty International said Tuesday it was concerned about the prospect of Rekabi’s return. Amnesty said in a statement that Elnaz Rekabi should not be forcibly returned to Iran, adding that she “is at real risk of arbitrary arrest, torture, and other ill-treatment for violating the authorities’ compulsory veiling rules,” Amnesty wrote.

An embassy official in Seoul said that Rekabi left with “other members of the team” on Tuesday and dismissed “all the fake, false news and disinformation.” The embassy posted a photo of Rekabi from previous games in Russia where she was competing while wearing a hijab in the Twitter post.

Elnaz Rekabi and the rest of the Iranian delegation have already left South Korea after the sporting event, according to the South Korean Foreign Affairs Ministry.

When abroad, Iran requires women to wear a hijab in order to officially represent the country.

Image Credit: AP