Elnaz Rekabi is a world-class rock climber, and the first Iranian female to win a medal at an IFSC (International Federation of Sport Climbing) championship. She recently competed in an international competition in South Korea, and did so without wearing a hijab. That has led to various conjectures as to what that missing hijab meant. Jihad Watch covered her return to Iran and subsequent arrest and disappearance here, and a report on her hijab-less rock-climbing and continued questions about the incident is here: “Iranian female rock climber returns from Seoul after hijab controversy,” Jerusalem Post, October 18, 2022:
An Iranian rock climber said on Tuesday her hijab had fallen by mistake while competing in an international competition in South Korea, after she was widely assumed to have expressed support for protests in Iran.
The fact that she climbed without a hijab, and had never done so until these hijab-protests had broken out in Iran, suggest that she was indeed expressing solidarity with the female protesters at home.
Footage taken of Elnaz Rekabi, 33, had shown her scaling a wall without her head covered during the Asian competition while representing Iran, which has been swept by protests ignited by Mahsa Amini’s death in morality police custody.
If Elnaz Rekabi’s hijab had “accidentally fallen off,” then why are there no photographs of her with the hijab on before it fell off?
In a statement posted on her Instagram account, Rekabi said she was on her way back to Iran with the rest of the team.
What’s going on here? Here’s my guess: Rekabi did indeed climb without a hijab in solidarity with the female protesters at home. She was then instantly taken in tow by the team minders who threatened her – “you’ll never compete again” — and, most likely, her family members, too (“your father will lose his job, your brother won’t be allowed to attend medical school”), unless she made clear that her hijab had simply slipped off as she was beginning her climb, and she hadn’t taken the time to retrieve it.
Citing an informed source, BBC Persian had earlier reported that friends had been unable to contact her. Another BBC report confirmed that Rekabi had boarded a plane but stressed that there were still concerns for her safety, and others feared she could be headed for Evin Prison.
The fact that her friends had been unable to contact after her climb lends weight to the suspicion that she had been held incommunicado by Iranian officials who had accompanied the country’s athletes to Seoul, and who, after her climb, had taken her someplace where they read her the riot act. Here’s my guess as to what happened: Rekabi did indeed climb without a hijab in solidarity with the female protesters at home. The hijab did not “fall off accidentally.” If it had, there would have been photographs of her initially wearing the hijab before it fell off. But there are none.
The officials who took her most likely to the hotel the team was staying in, or to the Iranian Embassy, would have threatened both her –“you’ll never compete again” and, most likely, her family members too (“your father will lose his job, your brother won’t be allowed to attend medical school”), unless she made clear that her hijab had simply slipped off as she was beginning her climb, and had nothing to do with the “rioters” in Iran. Rekabi folded, and dutifully placed this message on her Instagram page: “Not wearing the headscarf during the competition in Seoul was unintentional, the result of an accident … Due to bad timing, and the unanticipated call for me to climb the wall, my head covering inadvertently came off.”
What kind of “bad timing” would lead to her hijab falling off? It’s most implausible. And the main objection must be repeated: why is it that there are no photographs of her wearing the hijab at the very beginning of her climb, before it supposedly fell off?
Iran’s embassy in South Korea, on Twitter, denied reports about her going missing after the competition.
Well, of course the Embassy denied reports of her going missing. Her friends couldn’t get in touch with her – no doubt her phone had been taken away – but as far as the Iranian enforcers at the embassy or at the hotel were concerned, she was not missing. Elnaz Rekabi was right there with them, being held in a room while she was made an offer she couldn’t refuse: apologize for not wearing the hijab, and claim that it was that result of an accident – it slipped off just as she was about to start her climb – or else.
Now the Iranian government may want to show unwonted leniency. Instead of sending her to Evin Prison (or another prison, given the recent fire at Evin), as some now fear it will do, an unexpected display of magnanimity might be just the ticket for the Supreme Leader and President Raisi. Let her return not to prison, but to her home, and have a government spokesman tell the Iranian and world media that Rekabi has given a full explanation as to how her hijab fell off, apologized for her carelessness, and vowed it will never happen again. “The government and the Supreme Leader accept her explanation, and her apology.”
Who knows? It might just work to calm the roiling waters in Iran.