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Iranian climber who competed without hijab returns to Tehran

A woman watches a screen displaying a video of Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi competing without a hijab. (AFP via Getty Images)

Elnaz Rekabi, an Iranian climber who competed without a hijab, returned to her home country’s capital of Tehran early Wednesday after concerns for her safety had been raised.

The 33-year-old got off a flight at Imam Khomeini International Airport, where she was greeted by crowds and cameras recording her arrival.

Rekabi flew back to Iran with her teammates after competing in South Korea for the International Federation of Sport Climbing’s Asia Championship, according to both Iranian and South Korean officials.

The International Federation of Sport Climbing said it had been in contact with Rekabi, but her family and friends told BBC Persia they hadn’t been able to reach her. This was cause for concern, as the Iranian government enforces a strict dress code for women, including athletes who are competing abroad.

Amid the concerns, Rekabi posted on her Instagram that she was with teammates and that not wearing the hijab during competition had been “unintentional.” But further concerts arose with the statement, as some thought it was posted by someone other than Rebaki.

When the climber arrived at the airport, she repeated the statement from the Instagram post and clarified the reason she did not wear hijab during her climb.

“Because I was busy putting on my shoes and my gear, it caused me to forget to put on my hijab and then I went to compete,” she told reporters. “I came back to Iran with peace of mind although I had a lot of tension and stress. But so far, thank God, nothing has happened.”

Her safe landing in Tehran comes after a source told BBC Persia that Rekabi’s phone and passport were seized by Iranian officials as she left South Korea.

Iran is in the midst of protests regarding the hijab laws, sparked when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was arrested for wearing her hijab too loosely. She died on Sept. 16 after entering custody, with police claiming she had a heart attack. Her family, however, says Amini was healthy when she entered custody, and reports that she was beaten by officials have surfaced.