Iranian Chess Player Sara Khadem, Who Competed Without Hijab, Moves To Spain After Warnings: Report

Following the custodial death of 22-year-old Iranian woman Mahsa Amini in September, Iran has been rocked by nationwide protests. Women have often publicly taken off their hijabs, burnt them, and cut their hair in defiance of Iranian laws.

Iranian chess player Sara Khadem has reporetedly moved to Spain after warnings over returning to Iran

Iranian chess player Sara Khadem, who competed in Kazakhstan without wearing hijab, has moved to Spain after  she received warnings, according to a report.

Reuters reported that Sara arrived in Spain on Tuesday after she received warnings about returning to Iran. 

Last month, Sara competed in FIDE World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships in Kazakhstan without wearing a hijab, an Islamic head covering which women in Iran are required to wear by law. 

Reuters also reported that Sara’s family members in Iran have also received threats.

Reuters reported, “The source, who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter, said Khadem subsequently received multiple phone calls in which individuals warned her against returning home after the tournament, while others said she should come back, promising to ‘solve her problem’.The source also said Khadem's relatives and parents, who are in Iran, had also received threats, without giving further details.”

European media had last week reported that Sara would not be returning to Iran and would instead move to Spain.

Women in Iran are governed by dress codes which require them to wear hijab in public. Women are also required to not wear form-fitting or revealing clothes. The mingling of people of opposite genders in public is also regulated. These rules are governed by Iran ‘morality police’. 

In September, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in the custody of morality police after she was detained over allegedly violating the hijab rule. She was out with her brother at the time she was detained. Since Amini’s death, Iran has been rocked by intense nationwide protests in which women have taken off their hijabs, burnt them publicly, and cut their hair publicly in defiance of the Iranian government. 

The Islamic clergy ruling Iran governs the country with a strict interpretation of Islamic law called sharia. The hijab rule came into force after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran in which the liberal, pro-Western Iranian monarchy was overthrown and replaced by Islamic clergy. 

In the wake of warning, Sara was also provided security in Kazakhstan, according to Reuters.

It reported, “The phone calls led to organisers deciding to provide security with the cooperation of Kazakh police, resulting in four bodyguards being stationed outside Khadem's hotel room, the source said.”

Iranian women players defying hijab rule

In the same tournament in Kazakhstan, another Iranian player named Atousa Pourkashiyan also competed without wearing a hijab, according to Borzou Daragahi of The Independent.

Since protests over Amini’s death began, a number of Iranian women players have competed abroad without wearing hijab. It’s seen as a protest against the Iranian government a show of solidarity with the protesters.

In October, Iranian competitive climber Elnaz Rekabi competed without a hijab in South Korea. NPR reported she received “a hero’s welcome” upon her return to Iran. 

“Video shared online showed large crowds gathered early Wednesday at Imam Khomeini International Airport outside of Tehran, the sanctioned nation's main gateway out of the country. The videos, corresponding to known features of the airport, showed crowds chanting the 33-year-old Rekabi's name and calling her a hero,” reported NPR.

Rekabi later went missing and Iranian authorities demolished her family home, as per reports.

In November, an Iranian basketball team shared a photo without hijab with a caption “Women, Life, Freedom”. The slogan is central to the ongoing protests since Amini’s death.

“These protests intertwine with the broader demand of ‘freedom’ in the sense of individual political and cultural rights and openness, which was also a key promise of the Islamic Revolution that overthrew the Pehlavi monarchy. The popularity of slogan of jin-jiyan-azadi [women-life-freedom] would suggest that the current round of protests are better understood within the notion of civil rights movement,” said Iranian affairs expert Dr Deepika Saraswat to Outlook in October. 

In November, Iranian skater Niloufar Mardani received an award in Turkey without her hijab. As her photograph became public, the Iranian government condemned her act.