South Korea’s SEOUL According to authorities, an Iranian woman who competes in competitive climbing fled South Korea on Tuesday after taking part in an event where she climbed without wearing the customary hijab of her country. She may have been compelled to leave early by Iranian officials, according to Farsi-language media from outside Iran, which Tehran swiftly disputed.

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Elnaz Rekabi, a multiple-medal winner in competitions, decided against wearing the hijab as protests prompted by the murder of a 22-year-old woman in prison on September 16 entered their fifth week. The nation’s morality police detained Mahsa Amini because of her attire.

The protests, which brought school-age children, oil employees, and others to the streets in more than 100 towns, pose the most significant threat to Iran’s theocracy since the widespread rallies that followed its contentious 2009 presidential election.

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Rekabi boarded a flight out of Seoul early on Tuesday, according to the Iranian Embassy in South Korea. Iranian authorities reportedly took Rekabi’s passport and cell phone, according to an anonymous “informed source” who was cited by the BBC’s Persian service, which has strong connections inside Iran despite being forbidden from doing business there.

She was initially slated to return on Wednesday, but according to BBC Persian, her flight was abruptly changed.

Rekabi, according to IranWire, a different country-focused website created by Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari who once was detained by Iran, , will be sent to Tehran’s renowned Evin Prison right away after entering the nation. This past weekend, a large fire at Evin Prison claimed the lives of at least eight inmates.

The Iranian Embassy in Seoul responded to rumors of Rekabi’s departure on Tuesday by denying “all the bogus, misleading news and disinformation” in a tweet. However, it published a picture of her from a prior tournament in Moscow, where she won a bronze medal, rather than one of her from the Seoul competition.

Tuesday’s phone calls to the Iranian Embassy in Seoul were unanswered.

According to the Korea Alpine Federation, the event’s Seoul-based organizers, Rekabi did not wear a hijab during Sunday’s championship final of the Asia Championship of the International Federation of Sport Climbing.

Rekabi, according to federation representatives, covered her head during her first appearances in the seven-day climbing competition. She wore just a black headband when competing Sunday was wearing a white jersey with the Iranian flag as its insignia on it, her dark hair put back in a ponytail.

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Rekabi was a part of the 11-person Iranian delegation, which included eight athletes and three coaches, to the competition.

Officials from the federation claimed they were first unaware that Rekabi was participating without a hijab but looked into the matter after being contacted about her. They said there are no regulations dictating whether or not female competitors must wear headscarves. However, Iranian women who compete overseas while representing their country invariably don the headscarf.

Invoking privacy-related laws, the Justice Ministry of South Korea declined to confirm whether the Iranian athlete is still present in South Korea or has gone. The foreign ministry of South Korea stated that it has no remarks on the matter.

Rekabi, 33, has earned one silver and two bronze medals for her efforts by placing third three times in the Asian Championships.

Human rights organizations estimate that more than 200 people have already died as a result of the protests and the ensuing harsh reaction by the security forces. In recent weeks, Iran has not provided a death toll. According to the organization Human Rights Activists in Iran, protests have taken place in over 100 places. It’s estimated that thousands have been detained.

Learn more about the 100-year struggle for freedom by the Iranian people.

Information on the demonstrations is still hard to come by. The Iranian government has been blocking internet access for several weeks. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, police have imprisoned at least 40 journalists.

Instead of Iranians who are outraged by Amini’s death and the nation’s other problems, Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have consistently claimed that the country’s foreign foes are behind the current rallies.

Iranians have watched their life savings vanish, and the the country’s currency, the rial, plummeted and Tehran’s nuclear agreement with foreign powers are in shambles.

From Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Gambrell reported. John Marshall in Phoenix and Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul from the Associated Press contributed to this story.
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