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Iranian sport climber athlete Elnaz Rekabi missing, iran without hijab

After she competed in Seoul without a hijab, Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi was worried.

Since Sunday, the athlete's friends haven't been able to reach her, but the embassy says she has gone home with the rest of the team.

Friends of an Iranian climber who took part in an international competition without a hijab in South Korea have told the BBC's Persian service that they haven't been able to get in touch with her since Sunday. This is making people worry about her safety.

"Well-informed sources" told the BBC that Elnaz Rekabi's passport and cell phone were taken away before she got on a plane to go back to Tehran on Tuesday.

Rana Rahimpour, who works for the BBC World Service, wrote on Twitter that "there are concerns about her safety."

Iranian sport climber athlete Elnaz Rekabi missing, iran without hijab
Alarm grew on October 18 over the wellbeing of Iranian sports climber Elnaz Rekabi after she competed at an event in South Korea without a hijab in what some saw as a gesture of solidarity with the women-led protests at home.

Iran Wire, an online news site, said that Rekabi had been taken to the Iranian embassy in Seoul so that she could fly home with as few checks as possible.

A source told Iran Wire, a small anti-regime website, that Rekabi would be flown back to Tehran on Tuesday, a day earlier than planned, to stop any protests at Imam Khomeini international airport.

The Guardian could not verify the reports.

In a tweet on Tuesday, the Iranian embassy in Seoul said it "strongly denies all the fake, false, and misleading news" about Rekabi.

At the Asian Championships, Rekabi was taking part. The International Federation of Sport Climbing, which put on the event, has been asked for a comment.

Rekabi hadn't said anything since the event until Tuesday morning, when a story was posted on her Instagram account, which has more than 200,000 followers.

"First of all, I'm sorry for all the worry I've caused," said the statement. "My hijab unintentionally became a problem" because of the timing and sudden call to start the climb, it said. "I am currently on my way back to Iran with the team, as planned," the statement said.

Not much was known about how the statement came to be.

After Mahsa Amini died in police custody last month, there have been violent protests in Iran. The "morality police" of the country had taken the 22-year-old in because she wasn't wearing her hijab correctly.

Some women protesters have burned their hijabs and cut off their hair as crowds chanted "zan, zendegi, azadi" (which means "woman, life, freedom").

Last year, Rekabi was the first woman from Iran to win a medal at the world championships for sport climbing. She came in fourth at the event in South Korea last weekend. A video clip from the event showed her climbing up a wall with a ponytail in her hair.

Rekabi has posted pictures on Instagram of herself training while wearing a hijab. She is also thought to be only the second Iranian woman athlete to compete while openly defying Iran's strict law that says women must wear the Islamic head covering.

Sadaf Khadem, an Iranian boxer, won her first fight outside of Iran in 2019, making her the first Iranian woman since the Islamic Revolution to do so. Khadem decided to stay in France after the fight because Iranian officials had reportedly issued an arrest warrant for her because she had boxed without a hat and in shorts.

In an interview with France's Euronews in 2016, Rekabi said that wearing a hijab while climbing could make it harder for her to move around.

"At first, the other athletes thought it was strange that a girl was competing inside when it was so hot, wearing a scarf on her head and clothes that covered her arms and legs," she said.

"For sure, the hijab is a problem when it's hot. During a competition, you need to get rid of the heat in your body. But we have tried to make our own clothes that are respectful of the hijab and work well for the sport of climbing.

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