Middle East

Elnaz Rekabi: Iranian climber was forced to issue hijab statement or risk losing family home – report

Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi was forced to apologise for competing abroad without a headscarf or risk having her family’s property confiscated by the authorities, it has been reported.

The 33-year-old climber, who participated at a contest in South Korea without a headscarf in what appeared to be a show of support for protests over the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody, has also been placed under house arrest upon returning to Tehran, The Guardian has reported.

She went against Iran’s strict and conservative dress code, which requires female athletes to wear headscarves and cover up with loose-fitting clothing, at the IFSC Asian Championships in Seoul.

But she later issued a statement on Instagram saying that she had prepared for the climbing event in a rush and the headscarf fell off “inadvertently”, calling the incident “unintentional”. She made similar comments to the media on her return to Iran.

Rekabi was pressurised to make the “forced confession” by the Iranian authorities, a report by BBC Persian said on Friday, citing a source aware of the matter.

The climber returned to Tehran on Wednesday to large crowds of supporters at the airport but was not allowed to return to her home, the report said.

Instead, she was held at the national Olympics academy in the custody of plainclothes officers until she met the sports minister Hamid Sajjadi the next day, the source claimed. Pictures of Rekabi going to meet the minister on Thursday showed her wearing the same clothes as when she arrived at the airport.

The athlete was threatened with the confiscation of 100m rials (£244,150) worth of her family’s property if she did not issue the “forced confession”, the BBC Persian source said.

Meanwhile, southeastern Iran remains gripped by protests that have continued for more than five weeks, as demonstrators targeted banks on Friday and pelted stones in Zahedan.

At least 57 people found to be “rioters” by the Iranian police were arrested on Friday for attacking banks in the city, said provincial police chief Ahmad Taheri.

Around 300 protesters marched in the city after Friday prayers, reported Iranian state television.

The demonstrators were heard chanting “Death to the dictator” against supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and “Death to Basijis” against the Basij militia, which has been deployed to crack down on the protests.

According to Amnesty International, at least 66 people were killed in a violent crackdown by the authorities after Friday prayers in the Sistan-Baluchistan province’s capital last month.

A top Sunni cleric has called on senior Iranian officials to take responsibility for the killings on 30 September.

“For what crime were they killed? Officials, the country’s managers, the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader (Khamenei) who commands all armed forces are all responsible before God,” said Molavi Abdolhamid, a leading Sunni cleric said in his Friday sermon.

Iran has been engulfed in deadly protests after the death of Amini, who was arrested by the country’s morality police for not appropriately covering her head, following which thousands of women have continued to pour onto the streets.

A total of 244 protesters had been killed in the unrest, including 32 minors, the activist news agency HRANA said.

It said 28 members of the security forces were killed and more than 12,570 people had been arrested as of Friday in protests in 114 cities and towns and some 82 universities.


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