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Controversy Ensues After Iranian Climber Competes Without Hijab

Rhea Kang/AP

The athlete defended herself by saying she was unexpectedly called to climb the wall.

(CNN) — A female Iranian climber, who did not wear a hijab at an international competition in South Korea, left for Iran on Tuesday as Iranian groups based abroad raised alarms over her fate back home.


Elnaz Rekabi, 33, competed without a hijab during the International Federation of Sport Climbing's Asian Championships in Seoul on Sunday. Videos of her wearing a headband with her hair in a ponytail while competing, spread on social media.

Her return to Iran comes amid nationwide protests in Iran calling for greater freedoms for women, following the death of a 22-year-old woman who died in police custody after her arrest for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly.

In a story posted on Rekabi's Instagram page on Tuesday, the athlete said she was called to climb the wall "unexpectedly" which "unintentionally" created a problem with her hair covering.

"Due to bad timing and unexpectedly being called to climb the wall, I inadvertently created a problem with my head covering," she wrote.

"Apologizing for the worries that I caused ... currently, according to the predetermined schedule I am returning to Iran with the team," the IG story post said.

Iran mandates women wear a hijab when officially representing the country abroad.

A news website critical of the Iranian regime, IranWire, alleged that Rekabi will be transferred to prison upon arrival. CNN could not independently verify that claim.

The Iranian embassy in Seoul said that Rekabi departed on Wednesday along with "other members of the team" and "strongly denied all the fake, false news and disinformation."

In the Twitter post, the embassy posted a picture of Rekabi from previous games in Russia where she was competing wearing the hijab.

The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) said it's "fully aware of news" regarding Rekabi and it's their "understanding" that she is returning to Iran.

"There is a lot of information in the public sphere regarding Ms Rekabi and as an organisation we have been trying to establish the facts. We have also been in contact with Ms Rekabi and the Iranian Climbing Federation," a statement by the IFSC said.

"We will continue to monitor the situation as it develops on her arrival," the statement said.

In response to an inquiry, the South Korean government said they could not reveal private information on whether a person has left the country.

Calls placed to two Iranian team coaches currently in Seoul were not answered.

The-CNN-Wire
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