Fears grow for Iranian climber who competed without hijab at event

John Bolton discusses sanctions in Iran

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Concerns for a female athlete who took part in an international competition without a hijab are rising amid reports she may be forced to leave South Korea early. Elnaz Rekabi, 33, faces being arrested and immediately transferred to prison when she returns home, according to reports denied by Tehran. Ms Rekabi, who is from Iran, chose not to wear a hijab amid protests in her home country. 

Wearing a hijab is mandatory for women in Iran – a rule which has sparked growing demonstrations over the last month.

The Iranian Embassy in South Korea said Ms Rekabi left Seoul on a flight on Tuesday morning.

However, her passport and mobile phone are believed to have been seized, an “informed source” is said to have told journalists.

Her flight is said to have been unexpectedly pushed forward from Wednesday, according to the BBC’s Persian service.

An Instagram story posted on Ms Rekabi’s account described her as “unintentionally” not wearing her hijab and claimed she was rushed – although she appears relaxed in footage.

“Right now based on a prearranged timetable with the team, I am heading to Iran.”

But a friend has spoken out and said they are “very concerned” for Ms Rekabi. 

In a statement shared on Instagram, Zeinab Moosavi said: “Considering all the events that have happened, all of Iran and the world are worried about Elnaz’s condition after her arrival in Iran.

“We can only pray and ask God to make the best decision for dear Elnaz in this situation.

Moosavi also hailed Rekabi as a “brave and powerful girl” adding “a nation stands by you”.

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The Iranian embassy dismissed “fake news and disinformation” over Rekabi’s departure in a tweet.

But it posted a picture of the athlete wearing a headscarf at a different competition in Moscow, where she won a bronze medal.

The International Federation of Sport Climbing said it is “trying to establish the facts” over Ms Rekabi’s departure, adding: “Our understanding is that she is returning to Iran, and we will continue to monitor the situation as it develops on her arrival.”

Ms Rekabi took part in the final of the Asia Championship in Seoul on Sunday, travelling with an 11-strong team including eight athletes and three coaches.

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