Iranian female climber Elnaz Rekabi left for Iran on Tuesday, a day earlier than scheduled from an international rock climbing competition in Seoul. Her departure has caused much alarm amongst Iranian groups that are based abroad. 

Rekabi’s hijab reportedly came off while competing in the International Federation of Sports Climbing’s Asian Championships in the South Korean capital on Sunday. A video of her wearing a headband with her hair in a pony tail went viral on social media. 

The sportswoman’s return to the theocratic country comes amidst a wave of nationwide protests that began after the death of 22-year-old woman who died in police custody after being beaten and tortured by the Guidance Patrol, Iran’s religious police.

Who is Elnaz Rekabi?

Elnaz Rekabi is an Iranian sports climber. She was born on August 20, 1989 in the city of Zanjan, in the Zanjan province of Iran. Rekabi is 33 years old. 

The climber has become a part of the news cycle mainly due to her competing in a climbing competition without the mandatory hijab. In an Instagram post, Rekabi explained that she was called to climb the wall “unexpectedly” and that created a problem with her hair covering “unintentionally”.

“Due to bad timing and unexpectedly being called to climb the wall, I inadvertently created a problem with my head covering,” Rekabi wrote at the time. The headscarf is mandatory for all female players who officially represent Iran abroad. 

Iranian rights group based outside the country have raised concerns that the climber is likely to be arrested and jailed on her return to Iran. In fact, Rekabi was reported missing on October 18, the very same day she made the Instagram post.

In the past, the climber has been the winner of several bronze and silver medals for sports climbing. In last year’s IFSC Climbing World Championships she claimed a bronze medal in the women’s combined event. In the 2016 edition in Duyun, China, she won bronze, similar to her performance in the 2014 Championships in Lombok, Indonesia. Her 2014 performance was the best, where she claimed silver in the IFSC Climbing World Championships on her home ground in Tehran, Iran.