Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi has returned to Iran after hitting the headlines for not wearing her nation’s mandatory headscarf while competing in South Korea.
Rekabi’s flight back — reportedly earlier than planned — sparked fears for her safety in a country that routinely pressures activists at home and abroad, often airing what rights groups describe as coerced confessions on state television.
In an Instagram post on an account attributed to Rekabi, it was claimed that not wearing a hijab in South Korea was “unintentional.” However, it wasn’t immediately clear whether she wrote the post and if it was done under duress.
Video shared online showed large crowds gathered at Imam Khomeini International Airport to welcome Rekabi home on Wednesday.
It comes as protests sparked by the 16 September death of Mahsa Amini entered a fifth week. Iran’s morality police — tasked with enforcing strict codes around dress and behaviour — had arrested the 22-year-old for not wearing her hijab correctly and sporting skinny jeans.
The demonstrations have drawn school-age children, oil workers and others to the street in over 100 cities.
They represent the most serious challenge to Iran’s theocracy since the mass protests surrounding its disputed 2009 presidential election.
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