Elnaz Rekabi, the Iranian athlete and rock climber who became a controversial figure after competing in a sport without her hijab on, has apologized on social media on Tuesday and claimed that she had problems with her headscarf before the competition.

Rekabi posted the message on her Instagram, saying that she “inadvertently faced a problem” with her hijab during the Asian Championships in Seoul, and that she was forced to compete without one, apologizing for the “worries that I caused,” according to Al Jazeera.

The video of Rekabi competing while wearing the Iranian team’s uniform and without her headscarf was taken by many as a protest of the government’s hijab laws which are punishable by death in Iran and which caused 22-year-old Mahsi Amini to be killed by the “morality police” over a month ago, the AP News reported.

Rekabi was reportedly asked to go back to Iran early after the rock climbing video of her went viral, with many worrying that her actions would cause her to be arrested by officials. Her mobile phone and her passport were reportedly seized by Iranian authorities, as well, though the Iranian government has denied doing so.

The controversy of Rekabi competing without a headscarf has been such that the International Federation of Sport Climbing released a statement saying that they do not have rules enforcing the use of headscarfs for competing women, but that they have been in contact with Rekabi and the Iranian government regarding the situation.

“Our understanding is that she is returning to Iran, and we will continue to monitor the situation as it develops on her arrival,” the body said. “It is important to stress that athletes’ safety is paramount for us and we support any efforts to keep a valued member of our community safe in this situation.”

The protests in Iran, which has been led largely by women, has been the biggest challenge to the Iranian government’s power since the Revolution in 1979. The use of force is very prevalent in putting down protests, which the international community has condemned.

“The continued unnecessary and disproportionate use of force against protesters must stop,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said. “Arresting people solely for exercising their rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of liberty.”

Human rights groups monitoring the protest situation believe that over 200 people have been killed, and thousands have been locked up because of the protests.

Elnaz Rekabi Climbing Footage
Elnaz Rekabi competes without a hijab, in the Cypriot capital Nicosia on October 18, 2022. Contributor/Getty Images.

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