There was concern on Tuesday over the wellbeing of Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi, who competed in South Korea on Sunday without wearing the head covering required of all women by her country’s hardline Islamic government. Many took her public appearance without a headscarf or hijab as a sign of solidarity with the women-led protests that have raged in Iran for more weeks.
CBS News senior foreign correspondent Elizabeth Palmer said friends of Rekabi had said they believed the athlete deliberately chose not to wear a head covering in support of the protests, and after the competition, some voiced concern over being unable to contact her.
Sources told Palmer that after the video of Rekabi competing without a headscarf went viral, the climber was invited to the Iranian Embassy in Seoul on a ruse. Once there, she was stripped of her phone and passport and put on a plane to Tehran.
The Iranian embassy tweeted a photo of Rekabi, with her head covered, and said she had departed the country. It dismissed reports of her going missing as “false news and disinformation.”
A number of international groups raised concerns about Rekabi’s fate when she returned to Iran and then on Tuesday, the athlete posted a message on Instagram apparently meant to assuage fears for her safety.
“I, Elnaz Rekabi, with more than 20 years of experience in the national Iranian rock climbing team, apologize for the concerns I have created. I must announce that due to the sensitivity of the final competitions of the championship of Asia due to improper timing and the unforeseen invitation for me to climb, my outfit was inadvertently problematic.”
Rekabi added that she was returning to Iran with her team “according to the prior schedule.”
Iran has been rocked by massive anti-government demonstrations for more than a month. The most significant challenge to the Islamic Republic’s ruling regime in more than a decade was sparked by the September death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police. Her family say she was tortured and killed after being arrested for alleged violations of the country’s strict dress code for women.
Human rights groups say Iran’s security forces have killed more than 200 protesters in a violent crackdown on the demonstrations.