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Climber Elnaz Rekabi Disappears After Defying Iran’s Hijab Law at IFSC Asia Comp

elnaz rekabiElnaz Rekabi went viral on social media this weekend for climbing without a hijab, breaking the Iranian law for women during national protests over women's rights; (photo/Elnaz Rekabi)
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The 33-year-old Iranian’s passport and mobile phone have been confiscated, and her whereabouts are unknown, according to reports.

When rock climbers face the risk of injury or death, it’s usually from avalanches, bad weather, or just an unexpected fall.

For Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi, the most significant danger could now be her government.

Rekabi made international news this weekend for a small but powerful decision. She competed in a climbing competition in South Korea with her hair visible. Today, Rana Rahimpour, the BBC’s World Service Lead Presenter for Iran, reported the climber had gone missing.

Rahimpour later reported that the Iranian team had been staying at the Seoul Garden Hotel. The night manager told the outlet that the group checked out of the hotel “earlier today,” according to Rahimpour. Meanwhile, another source told the BBC that Elnaz’s passport and mobile phone had been “confiscated,” she said.

Rekabi’s Offense

Choosing not to wear a hijab in public is a severe offense for women in Iran, which has required the traditional headscarves by law since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The country’s authoritarian regime even enforces this law on women athletes competing abroad.

Moreover, Rekabi is one of the first women to defy this law. Her symbolic gesture comes during rising national protests over women’s rights.

Last month, a 22-year-old named Mahsa Amini died in the custody of the country’s morality police after they arrested her for not wearing a hijab “properly.” That ignited a wave of demonstrations, mainly among young Iranians, calling for a “revolution” to end the theocratic regime.

As a result, the 33-year-old Rekabi received immediate praise from activists and journalists on social media.

“What’s ordinary for almost all countries — a female athlete in the outfit of the sport — is an incredible moment for Iranians as women been forced to cover up for 43 yrs even when competing outside of Iran,” BBC journalist Bahman Kalbasi wrote on Twitter. “Hence Elnaz Rekabi bravely taking part w/o Hijab going viral. #MahsaAmini”

Dead Air: No Communication From Rekabi

While Rekabi’s gesture may get lots of support from Western media and young Iranians, it means little for her safety.

GearJunkie reached out to Rekabi for comment before the news broke that she was missing. We received no response. The climber has already become a rallying point for activists, who created artistic posters featuring her.

In 2019, Iranian boxer Sadaf Khadem competed in France, which required her to remove the hijab. Before returning home to Iran, Khadem had already received death threats, forcing her to stay in France. She ended up staying there and only began speaking publicly about the country’s politics after the death of Amini in September.

“I never answered [media] questions because I would be putting my family in danger as they still live in Iran,” Khadem told Arab News on Monday.

As for the Asian Climbing Competitions finals in Seoul on Sunday, Rekabi placed fourth. She won a bronze medal for boulder climbing at last year’s competition and 80-plus medals throughout her career.

Meanwhile, protests in Iran continue. Thus far, brutal crackdowns have resulted in the arrests of 8,000 protesters and the deaths of 240 people, including 32 children, ABC News reported.

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