Elnaz Rekabi, a 33-year-old Iranian professional rock climber who didn’t wear a hijab during a competition in South Korea, returned to her family in Iran despite reports she would be jailed for violating her country’s head-covering law for women. However, there are still concerns about her safety.
“I came back to Iran with peace of mind although I had a lot of tension and stress,” Rekabi told state-run news agencies after she landed in Tehran. “But so far, thank god nothing has happened.”
A large crowd greeted Rekabi at Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran when she arrived Wednesday morning, according to the BBC. She was met with cheers of “Elnaz is a heroine” before reuniting with her family.
Despite the warm reception, there remain a lot of questions about Rekabi’s well-being.
Although the International Federation of Sport Climbing wrote in a statement they “received clear assurance that Ms. Rekabi will not suffer any consequences, her decision not to wear a hijab during IFSC’s Asian Championships in Seoul, South Korea, is reportedly being investigated by the government.
This comes after she first said in an Instagram story earlier this week and then when she landed in Tehran that her decision not to wear a hijab wasn’t an open act of defiance against the government but an “unintentional” mistake. (However, Iran has a history of airing forced confessions on state-run media over the past decade).
“Because I was busy putting on my shoes and my gear, it caused me to forget to put on my hijab and then I went to compete,” she said upon her return.
Photos surfaced hours after her arrival of Rekabi with her brother, Davoud Rekabi, and Hamid Sajjadi, Iran’s Minister of Sports and Youth, and several other men. Rekabi also reportedly met with Iran’s National Olympic Committee president Mahmoud Khosravivafa, according to IranWire.
Elnaz Rekabi met with Iranian officials after returning from an international competition. (Office of Iran’s Sports Ministry/WANA (West Asia News Agency)
IranWire, a news outlet founded by Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari in 2014, initially reported on Monday that Rekabi would be jailed immediately upon her arrival in Tehran. While that didn’t happen, the site reported Thursday that Rekabi did not return to her home in Tehran or to her family’s home in Zanjan, Instead, she went immediately to the meeting with Sajjadi, per IranWire. Rekabi’s friends and family also told IranWire they are still worried she could be jailed.
Rekabi’s situation comes during a time of unrest in Iran regarding the head-covering law.
Massive protests have broken out in more than 100 cities in the country since the Sept. 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. Multiple human rights organizations estimate at least 200 people have been killed and thousands have been jailed during the protests. Amini died in police custody three days after she was arrested for wearing a hijab too loosely. Police say her death was an accident, but the event ignited protests around the country where women openly took off their hijabs or cut their hair.
Elnaz Rekabi spoke with state-run media when she returned to Iran after not wearing a hijab in South Korea. (IRNA via AP)