Huge crowds gathered at the Tehran Airport on Wednesday, 19 October, to welcome Iranian athlete Elnaz Rekabi, who had skipped the hijab in the Asian Climbing Competitions finals held in South Korea in direct contravention of the Iranian regime's mandate.
In videos from the site, large number of people could be seen applauding, chanting Rekabi's name, and calling her a hero as her car left the Imam Khomeini International Airport.
As per a report by Associated Press, Rekabi had walked into one of the airport's terminals, filmed by state television cameras and wearing a black baseball cap and a black hoodie covering her hair.
While exiting, she repeated what had been posted on Instagram, maintaining that wearing the hijab was "unintentional" and her travel had been as previously planned.
Meanwhile, local media reports suggest the possibility that the sportsperson may be imprisoned by the Iranian authorities for her breach of the hijab diktat. As per the IranWire, Rekabi may be transferred to the notorious Evin prison.
What Had Happened?
Rekabi had competed at the international event in Seoul without a hijab on Sunday, in a move that was seen as one in support of the ongoing women's protests in Iran against the administration's laws on women's dressing.
Amid local media reports that she had gone missing post the event, an Instagram story, allegedly posted by Rekabi on her personal account on Tuesday, apologised for the athlete not wearing a hijab while performing and the "improper timing" of her actions.
The post said that she was called on unexpectedly during the competition, and unintentionally forgot her hijab. It further stated that she was on her way to Iran as per the "pre-scheduled plan." The story did not carry a signature from the rock climber.
On the other hand, "well-informed sources" had indicated to the BBC that Rekabi's passport and mobile phone were taken from her.
The Iran embassy in Seoul, however, had denied the "fake, false news" regarding Rekabi, and maintained that she departed from Seoul on Tuesday morning along with other members of her team.
(With inputs from The Associated Press)