An Iranian woman rock climber has been welcomed by massive crowds upon returning to Tehran after she competed without a headscarf at a tournament in South Korea on Sunday Oct. 16.
Concerns had been raised after friends of 33-year-old Elnaz Rekabi reported they were unable to reach the athlete on Monday after her competition, according to BBC Persian.
Iranian women athletes are required to wear a covering on their heads and modest clothes when representing Iran in international competitions.
Video footage of Rekabi climbing without a veil had gone viral on social media, with people calling her “brave” and a “hero” for defying the country’s mandatory hijab law, which has come into the spotlight in recent weeks following protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini.
Sources had told BBC Persian that Iranian authorities had confiscated Rekabi’s phone and passport.
The Iranian embassy in South Korea denied reports she had gone missing and called it fake news on Twitter.
On Tuesday, Rekabi reemerged, issuing a statement on Instagram and reassuring everyone she was flying back home with her team.
In her statement, Rekabi said her hijab had “unintentionally become problematic” due to the the timing and unpredicted call for her to climb, according to Reuters.
Upon her return to Iran, many people gathering to welcome her outside the airport in Tehran.
The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) said it has reached out to Rekabi to obtain the facts about the event.
“Our understanding is that she is returning to Iran, and we will continue to monitor the situation as it develops on her arrival,” it said in a statement.
“Athletes’ safety is paramount for us and we support any efforts to keep a valued member of our community safe in this situation,” it added. “The IFSC fully support the rights of athletes, their choices, and expression of free speech”.
Human rights organizations fear Rekabi will may face arbitrary arrest in Iran, putting her life at risk.
Unprecedented protests are sweeping Iran following the death of 22-year-old Amini, who died after she was detained by “morality” police over allegedly breaking the hijab law.
The protests are being met with a violent crackdown from police, with at least 185 people dead, including teen girls Nika Shakarami and Sarina Esmailzadeh, who have also become the faces of the movement, and thousands more injured and arrested as of Oct. 12.