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Iran: Climber Elnaz Rekabi apology was forced, source says

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An Iranian climber who apologised for competing abroad without a headscarf was forced to do so, a source has told BBC Persian.

Elnaz Rekabi, 33, broke Iran’s strict dress code at the contest in South Korea – but later said her headscarf had fallen off “inadvertently”.

However, authorities threatened to take her family’s property if she did not make the statement, the source said.

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Opposition to the mandatory headscarf has fuelled the protests sweeping Iran.

Women there are required to cover their hair with a headscarf, or hijab, and their arms and legs with loose clothing. Female athletes must also abide by the dress code when they are officially representing Iran in competitions abroad.

A large crowd greeted Ms Rekabi at Tehran airport on Wednesday, calling her a “heroine”. She arrived at about 03:30 (00:00 GMT) without a headscarf, covering her hair with a black baseball cap and hoodie.

The next day she met the Iranian sports minister with the same clothes on, which raised suspicion that she had not been home during that time.

The source said Ms Rekabi was detained in a room at Iran’s National Olympic Committee building with plainclothes agents present until she met the minister.

She is now under “house arrest” but the authorities say she is staying at home because she is in need of rest, the source said.

Iran’s defecting athletes

Iran often orders athletes who go abroad to compete in international competitions to leave collateral to guarantee they will come back.

Before heading to Seoul, Ms Rekabi was forced to hand over a $35,000 cheque and grant full power of attorney to Iran’s Mountaineering Federation to sell her family’s property, the source said.

Other competitors have not returned in the past. Iran’s only female Olympic medallist, Kimia Alizadeh, defected in January 2020.

She said at the time she had left Iran because she didn’t want to be part of “hypocrisy, lies, injustice and flattery”. She described herself as “one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran”.

There are a number of Iranian athletes who have defected and subsequently compete under other nations’ flags.

The protests in Iran were sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman arrested by morality police in Tehran on 13 September for allegedly wearing her headscarf too loosely.

The police denied reports that she was beaten on the head with a baton and said she suffered a heart attack.

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