The images looked reassuring: Hundreds of people lined the road at Tehran’s main airport, cheering and chanting the name of Elnaz Rekabi as the minibus carrying her slowly weaves through the cheering crowd. “Hero, Elnaz! shouts the crowd of men and women, young and old, gathered outside the terminal, their rhythmic, thunderous applause echoing across a neon-lit forecourt.
The heroic welcome in the early hours of Wednesday morning to Ms Rekabi, an athlete who was a relatively obscure figure in the world of international sport climbing until a few days ago, has been documented in widely circulated video footage on social networks and on Iran. press organs.
Concern for Ms Rekabi had erupted after she made world headlines on Sunday for climbing at an international tournament without a hijab, defying dress codes that are strictly enforced by Iran for female athletes. This action propelled her to the center of the protest movement in Iran, in which women took center stage in anti-government rallies.
Iran has been plagued by protests since September in what has turned into the biggest challenge to the Islamic Republic in more than a decade. The protests were sparked by the arrest and death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman accused by the country’s vice squad of wearing her hijab too loosely. Police have denied reports that she was beaten while in custody, saying she suffered a heart attack, although her family say she was in good health when she was arrested.
In this context, Ms. Rekabi’s motives and fate remain unclear.
As Ms Rekabi landed in Tehran, footage from an Iranian agency, Borna News, showed her being hugged by her family. Their reunion seems warm but perhaps subdued, with a few worried looks. “Let’s go, let’s go,” a man said as he led Ms Rekabi away, grabbing a bouquet of flowers handed to her. The identity of the man and his relationship to Ms. Rekabi are unclear.
In a public television interview, Ms. Rekabi appeared calm but serious, covering her hair with a black baseball cap and hoodie. “I apologize to the people of Iran for the tension I caused,” she said. “Thank God nothing has happened yet,” she added.
Ms Rekabi denied reports she had been missing for the past few days and repeated a claim posted on an Instagram account linked to her on Tuesday that she had forgotten only her hijab. “It happened totally unintentionally,” she told reporters.
The New York Times was unable to verify whether Ms Rekabi had made the Instagram post herself. Iran has been widely criticized by rights groups in the past for forcing activists to make forced confessions publicly.
While it remains unclear whether her hijab-free competition was deliberate, if the airport footage is any guide, many Iranians seem to have already made up their minds and embraced Ms Rekabi as a heroine of the country’s protest movement.
Ms Rekabi said she intended to continue competing. “There is no goodbye. I will continue as long as I can continue according to my convictions, ”she said in an interview on public television. She was then taken from the airport. The Times was unable to confirm his destination or current whereabouts.
In a brutal crackdown by Iranian security forces, at least 240 protesters have so far been killed, including 32 children, and nearly 8,000 others have been arrested, according to the US news agency Human Rights Activists. News Agency.
#Climber #competed #hijab #encouraged #return #Iran