An Iranian climber, who did not wear a hijab during an international competition in South Korea, left for Iran Tuesday as Iranian groups based abroad sounded the alarm about his fate in his country.
Elnaz Rekabi, 33, competed without a hijab at the International Sport Climbing Federation Asian Championships in Seoul on Sunday. Videos of her wearing a headband with her hair in a ponytail during the competition spread on social media.
His return to Iran comes amid Nationwide protests in Iran calling for more freedoms for women, continuedg the death of a 22-year-old woman who died in police custody after his arrest for allegedly wearing his hijab improperly.
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In a story posted to Rekabi’s Instagram page on Tuesday, the athlete said she was called upon to climb the wall “unexpectedly”, which “unintentionally” created an issue with her hairstyle.
“Due to bad timing and an unexpected call to climb the wall, I inadvertently created an issue with my headgear,” she wrote.
“Apologizing for the concerns I have caused… currently, according to the predetermined schedule, I am returning to Iran with the team,” the IG story post said.
Iran requires women to wear the hijab when officially representing the country abroad.
A news site critical of the Iranian regime, IranWire, claimed that Rekabi would be transferred to prison upon his arrival. CNN could not independently verify this claim.
The Iranian Embassy in Seoul said Rekabi left on Tuesday with “other team members” and “strongly denied all fake news and misinformation”.
In the Twitter post, the Embassy posted a photo of Rekabi from previous games in Russia where she competed wearing the hijab.
“It is understood that all members of the Iranian delegation, including Elnaz Rekabi, have already left Korea after attending the sporting event,” South Korea’s foreign ministry told CNN in a statement.
The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) said it was “fully aware of the news” regarding Rekabi and it “understands” that she is returning to Iran.
“There is a lot of information in the public sphere regarding Ms. Rekabi and as an organization we have tried to establish the facts. We have also been in contact with Ms. Rekabi and the Iranian Climbing Federation,” says a press release from the IFSC.
“We will continue to monitor the situation as it develops upon his arrival,” the statement said.
In response to an investigation, the South Korean government said it could not reveal private information about whether a person had left the country.
Calls made to two coaches of the Iranian team currently in Seoul went unanswered.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the day Rekabi was due to leave Seoul.