Tehran, Oct 19 (EFE).- Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi was greeted by cheering crowds of supporters at Tehran’s airport Wednesday after returning from a tournament in South Korea, where she made headlines for competing without a headscarf in an apparent show of support for the ongoing protests in Iran.
Videos posted to social media showed crowds chanting “Elnaz, champion” and breaking into applause when the 33-year-old arrived at the Imam Khomeini International Airport.
Members of her family were also present to welcome the climber after friends and supporters raised their concerns for her safety after she took part in the IFSC Climbing Asian Championship in Seoul without a headscarf and with her pony tail showing.
Wearing a hoodie and a black cap to cover her hair at the airport on Wednesday, Rekabi told state news agency IRNA that she returned with her mind at ease although she had experienced “stress and tension.”
“But so far, thank God, nothing has happened,” she added.
Echoing an Instagram post she published when her climb made international headlines, Rekabi said she had not intentionally competed without her headscarf, but rather had forgotten to put it on before she was called up to climb the wall.
“I was unexpectedly called up and had to compete. I was busy putting on my shoes and technical gear and because of that I forgot to put on the hijab I had to wear,” she said.
After speaking to the press, Rekabi got into a van which drove away from the airport.
Her actions at Sunday’s competition were nonetheless widely interpreted as a political statement amid unrest in Iran in response to the death of young Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in September following her arrest by the so-called morality police for allegedly breaching the Islamic Republic’s strict dress codes for women.
Following the climb, news reports from outlets including the BBC claimed Rekabi had her passport and telephone confiscated. The Iranian embassy in Seoul denied the reports.
The strict Islamic dress code for women in Iran extends to athletes representing the country on the international stage.
The abolition of religious dress code laws is one of the main aims of the youth and women-led protests that have gripped the Islamic republic since Amini’s death on September 16.
The Norway-based NGO Iran Human Rights estimated that 215 people have been killed in the unrest so far, including 27 minors between 11 and 17 years old.
Thousands of others, including former football stars, activists, lawyers and singers, have been detained in a state clampdown. Some have since been released on bail.
Demonstrations have spread across the nation, with protesters in some cases chanting anti-government slogans and burning symbols of the Islamic republic, including the veil – an unthinkably audacious act in Iran until recently.EFE