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Elnaz Rekabi Reportedly Under House Arrest

Iranian authorities continue to deny any involvement.

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On October 16, Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi competed in the Asia Continental Championships without a hijab. Concerns for her safety mounted after she was reported missing following the event. Three days later she appeared on camera, apologizing to state reporters for not wearing her hijab, and it’s unclear whether her statements were made under duress. Now, reports are emerging that she is under house arrest.

Rekabi returned to Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport from Seoul early last Wednesday morning. She wore a black hoodie and cap and was seen getting into a van following an interview. According to the BBC, she met with the Iranian sports minister the next day wearing the same clothes, which raised suspicion that she had not returned home.


Sources, unverified by Climbing, have said that Rekabi’s brother was arrested prior to her return home. Also unverified, Rekabi reportedly handed over a $35,000 check and house titles to Iran’s Mountaineering Federation prior to leaving for the competition. It is rumored that athletes are required to hand over these kinds of collateral to prevent their defecting. 

An Iranian government-affiliated news agency reported that Rekabi was “now with her family.” Officials also denied that Rekabi had to hand over documents or money and that she was under house arrest. 

Rekabi has become a symbol of the anti-regime movement that has swept across Iran for the last five weeks. It is possibly the first counter-revolution in history to be led by women. Protestors are demanding wide reforms, including making hijabs optional for women. British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who spent six years detained in Tehran, believes that popularity of the demonstrations will effect lasting change in Iran, saying that they’ve reached a point of “no return.” 

Iranian security forces have a history of punishing dissenting athletes and political figures. Many have defected to other countries to avoid punishment. Kimia Alizadeh, bronze medalist in taekwondo at the Rio Olympics in 2016 (and Iran’s first Olympic medalist), defected to Europe after announcing that she did not want to be part of “hypocrisy, lies, injustice and flattery.” Both Shohreh Bayat and Mitra Hejazipour, leading Iranian chess players, left Iran after being expelled from the National federation for not wearing their hijabs. Saeid Mollaei, 2018 Judo world champion, refused to return to Iran after he defied orders to withdraw from a match that, had he won, would have resulted in him facing an Israeli opponent. (Iran has banned athletes from competing against Israeli citizens.) “Even if the authorities of my country told me that I can go back without any problems, I am afraid,” said Mollaei. “I am afraid of what might happen to my family and to myself.”

Punishment Still To Come?

According to the U.S.-based rights monitor HRANA, 233 protestors have been killed since demonstrations broke out. Unsurprisingly, Mahmoud Khosravi Vafa, the president of the National Olympic Committee of Iran, told The Associated Press, “It’s a small issue. I’m surprised that it is being talked about so much. In our view it was not a big issue.”

Following her arrival in Iran, Khosravi Vafa also met with the International Olympic Committee and the IFSC last Wednesday, reassuring them that Rekabi would receive no punishment and could continue to train and compete, saying, “I talked to her and told her that you definitely are very talented in sports and you should continue down this path to maybe qualify for the Paris Olympics and you’ll be fully supported by the Iranian Olympic committee.” 

On Saturday evening, a photo and statement was posted to Rekabi’s Instagram account. The post thanked her supporters from around the world, stating:

“I am endlessly grateful for the support of you, all the people of Iran, the most decent people of the planet, athletes and non athletes, and all your supports in international community: What I have gained till today was regarding the caring of you beautiful souls; and the future would not be a road without obstacles if you are not coming along. I sincerely thank all those who came to the airport for welcoming me, I love you.

“With respect,

“Me; the people, Iran.”

The Climbing Community Rallies

At the moment, it seems like the best thing we can do is continue to make ourselves heard, continue to be vocal in our support of Rekabi and what she stands for. With that in mind we contacted dozens of professional climbers and industry leaders asking for their support in a statement of solidarity. You can read the statement here.

Climbing will continue to monitor the situation.

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