Elnaz Rekabi: The Iranian athlete who suffered an unexpected fall

Elnaz Rekabi, an Iranian professional climber, has been on the frontline of social media and news outlets after she was seen participating in the Asian Championships in South Korea representing Iran without a hijab. Nothing was heard of the athlete until the statement she published the following Tuesday, explaining that she was fine and that the hijab falling off had been an accident.

Despite what the athlete said, many Iranians believe that it was not an accident, but more like her way of showing support for the protests occurring in Iran. In fact, BBC Persian reported that “to many people, the language used in this post looks like it has been written under duress,” in reference to the post where she apologized. For the protesters of Iran, Rekabi has become a local icon, and was received with chants when she got back home, calling her “Elnaz the hero”. 

However, without context, it would be impossible for you to understand why not wearing a hijab is an issue for the Iranian government and why Iranian people, especially women, are protesting about it. Let me give you a brief overview of the Iranian political ruckus. According to Maranlou ‘22 from The Conversation, wearing a hijab has become a mandatory lifestyle for women in Iran due to legislation that was established in April 1983. Iran is a country where Islam is the main religion, Shia Islam to be more precise, which is the most orthodox version of it.  

This explains why the Iranian government integrates Shariah law, a set of Islamic political mandates, with modern law. In the 1990s, the legislation that had been imposed almost a decade before was altered to include the criminalization of women that did not follow the dress code. Not only can women be penalized if they don’t wear a hijab, but they can be penalized if they do not comply with the standard of the morality police and the authority considers that they’re wearing a “bad hijabi”. 

“Bad hijabi” is the offense with which the morality police (the Iranian authority in charge of enforcing the dress code) took 22-year-old Masha Amini into custody. She was taken to a detention center on September 13 and was pronounced dead on September 16, from what the police claims was a heart attack but witnesses and family members assure was an assassination. According to Dermici 22’, not only are witnesses and family members certain that she was beaten to death but even a medical specialist said so.  As a result of her death, a vast amount of Iranian men and women have taken over the streets to protest against the morality police and the impunity it has for its unjust actions as a governmental entity.

Protests arose rapidly following her death, and are still happening as of now. Kullab ‘22 from PBS said that “at least 233 protesters have been killed since demonstrations swept Iran on Sept. 17, according to U.S.-based rights monitor HRANA.” Women have led this movement with strong messages like dismissing their hijab and cutting their hair (Amini’s hair was showing under her hijab when she was arrested). Men have also joined protests along with the international community because when it comes to human rights there should be no limitations to defending them. In this light, regardless of whether Elnaz Rekabi’s occurrence was an accident or not, it’s important because it puts back the focus on Iran and makes it a topic of conversation around the world, increasing the number of people raising awareness. 


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