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Fears grow for Iranian athlete who competed without hijab

Iranian sport climber Elnaz Rekabi, 33, competed without wearing a hijab at the International Federation of Sport Climbing's (IFSC) Asian Championships in Seoul on Sunday. She promptly left South Korea on Tuesday, with speculation that she was forced to leave by Iranian officials and could potentially face arrest back in Iran, where women are required to wear a headscarf in public at all times, reports The Associated Press. The Iranian embassy in Seoul confirmed that Rekabi left Seoul for Iran but denied "all fake news, lies, and false information" about her, BBC reports.

Rekabi's actions come while protests in Iran over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini have garnered international attention. Rekabi was praised by a number of human rights groups including Amnesty International, which also acknowledged that she could face "severe consequences" in Iran, writes NBC News

Concerns about Rekabi have grown since an Instagram account attributed to her posted on Tuesday, apologizing for "getting everybody worried" and saying that her hijab "inadvertently came off." The post was written in the first person despite nobody being able to contact Rekabi on Monday, with a source telling BBC Persia that Rekabi's passport and mobile phone were confiscated. 

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iranian women have been required to wear a hijab both in Iran and when officially representing the country abroad, ABC News explains. The IFSC has reportedly been in contact with Rekabi and Iranian officials but has not provided more details, AP continues. 

"The IFSC fully support the rights of athletes, their choices, and expression of free speech," they said in a statement.