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Worries mount over Iranian climber who competed without a hijab

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Iranian rock climber Elnaz Rekabi, who competed without a headscarf in the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) Asian Championships in Seoul, has attracted widespread concern for her safety, after photos of her doing so circulated on social media amid reports that she was returning to Iran earlier than planned.

The Iranian flag is seen flying over Evin prison in Tehran
Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency)
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Photos and videos of Rekabi scaling a wall with only a black head band and her hair tied back in a ponytail were widely circulated on social media.

Protests against Iran's mandatory headdress have been heating up since they began in mid-September, after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was detained by the country’s morality police and died in custody.

On Instagram, Rekabi apologized for attracting concern. She claimed in a post on Tuesday that her decision to compete without a headscarf was unintentional, and a result of changes to her competition schedule. She finished in fourth place. “I firstly apologise for all the concerns I have caused,” the statement said. Because of the changed timing and sudden call to begin the climb, “my hijab unintentionally became problematic,” it said. “I am currently on my way back to Iran alongside the team based on the pre-scheduled timetable.”

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BBC Persia reported that the Iranian climber had been out of reach since Sunday, citing conversations with Rekabi's close friends. The BBC reported that, according to sources, the 33-year-old had her phone and passport confiscated before she departed Seoul on Tuesday. Semafor was not able to independently verify the reports. According to online news site Iran Wire, Rekabi was taken to the Iranian embassy in Seoul before her flight on Tuesday to ensure that she would return home safely.

Without giving details, the embassy tweeted that it "strongly denies all the fake, false news and disinformation" regarding the climber.

The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) said that it is "trying to establish the facts," but that it had been in contact with Rekabi. The organization said it would monitor developments, including the climber's arrival.

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