Fears are growing for a female Iranian athlete who competed without a hijab at a climbing competition in South Korea in defiance of Iran’s strict rules.
Elnaz Rekabi was hailed by Iranians protesting against the dress code after she climbed with her hair uncovered at the IFSC Asian Championships in Seoul.
Ms Rekabi’s family and friends lost contact with her on Monday, after she said she was with an Iranian official. On Tuesday, the Iranian embassy said she had flown back to Tehran.
“Ms Elnaz Rekabi left Seoul for Iran on Tuesday morning, after the Asian Championships rock climbing competition ended,” a statement said.
“The embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in South Korea strongly denies all fake news, lies and false information about Ms Elnaz Rekabi.”
Women in the country are required to cover their hair with a hijab and their arms and legs with loose clothing. Female athletes must also abide by the dress code when they are officially representing Iran in competitions abroad.
Two years ago, an Iranian chess referee said she had recieved death threats after a photo circulated that appeared to show her without a hijab at the Women’s World Chess Championship in Shanghai.
Shohreh Bayat insisted that she had been wearing a headscarf loosely over her hair at the time, but she subsequently fled to the UK and claimed asylum after being warned that she could face arrest if she returned to Iran.
Last week, Ms Bayat called on the international community to act over the violent crackdown by Iranian authorities in response to nationwide protests against the compulsory hijab laws and the clerical establishment.
The protests were sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman arrested by morality police in Tehran on 13 September for allegedly wearing her headscarf too loosely. The police denied reports that she was beaten on the head with a baton and said she suffered a heart attack.
On Monday, more than 40 human rights groups urged the UN Human Rights Council to hold a special session and condemned what they called Iran’s “mobilisation of their well-honed machinery of repression to ruthlessly crack down” on the protests.