Iranian rock climber Elnaz Rekabi, who competed at an event without wearing a mandatory headscarf, has released a message on social media for the first time since concerns were raised for her safety.
- The Instagram story said she competed without a hair covering because it accidentally fell off
- She apologised for “getting everyone worried” and said she was flying home to Iran
- The BBC reported Elnaz Rekabi left South Korea a day earlier than scheduled
Rekabi, 33, a multiple medallist, said in a post on her Instagram story on Tuesday that she competed without a hair covering because her hijab had “inadvertently” fallen off during the competition in South Korea.
In the Instagram story, she apologised for “getting everybody worried”.
“Due to bad timing, and the unanticipated call for me to climb the wall, my head covering inadvertently came off,” the story said, according to a translation from the BBC.
It said that she would be flying home to Iran “alongside the team based on the pre-arranged schedule”
It is not clear whether the post was written under duress.
Rekabi’s display without a hijab came as protests rang out across Iran against the death of Mahsa Amini, who was detained by the country’s morality police over her clothing and died in custody.
The demonstrations, drawing a range of Iranians, represent the most serious challenge to Iran’s theocracy since the mass protests surrounding its disputed 2009 presidential election.
Human rights groups say hundreds of people have been killed as security forces crack down on the protests.
The BBC, quoting unnamed “informed source”, reported that Rekabi’s mobile phone and passport were seized and her friends were unable to contact her since she competed.
Rekabi left Seoul on a Tuesday morning flight, the Iranian embassy in South Korea said, although she was initially scheduled to return on Wednesday, according to BBC Persian.
IranWire alleged that Rekabi would be transferred to Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison — which was the site of a massive fire this week that killed eight prisoners — after arriving in the country.
In a tweet, the Iranian embassy in Seoul denied “all the fake, false news and disinformation” regarding Rekabi’s departure on Tuesday.
But instead of posting a photo of her from the Seoul competition, it posted an image of her wearing a headscarf at a previous competition in Moscow, where she also took a bronze medal.