An Iranian female climber who competed without a hijab at an international competition in South Korea has taken to social media to thank her supporters amid conflicting reports of whether she has been placed under house arrest.
“Thank you for your support, all the people of Iran, the most decent people on the planet, athletes and non-athletes, and all your support. [the] international community,” Elnaz Rekabi wrote on Instagram late Friday.
Next to a photo of himself climbing – appearing as a silhouette, suspended in the air -, he added: “What I have gained so far has been about taking care of you beautiful souls; and the future would not be an unobstructed path if you had not come.’
Videos posted on social media showed Rekabi chanting “Elnaz the hero” as he returned to Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport on Wednesday morning.
The return to Iran comes amid nationwide protests calling for greater freedoms for women, following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody after being arrested for allegedly wearing a hijab incorrectly.
As a result, some protesters see him as a symbol of the cause and rights groups have expressed fear for what will happen to those who return to Iran. IranWire, a news website critical of IranWire, said Rekabi would be taken to prison upon his return to the country.
Rekabi herself has suggested – both on her Instagram account and in interviews with state media IRNA – that she only “coincidentally” competed without her hijab, which Iran mandates must be worn by women representing the country abroad.
However, it is unclear whether Rekabi’s comments were made under duress.
His latest comments on Instagram came as the head of Iran’s mountaineering and sport climbing federation denied Rekabi was under house arrest.
Speaking to Iran’s government-linked Borna News Agency, Reza Zarei said Rekabi was “now with his family”.
Zarei also denied rumors that he received checks or ownership documents from Rekabi or any other athlete competing in the Asian Championships.
Borna news agency is affiliated with Iran’s Ministry of Sports and Youth.
CNN cannot independently verify whether Rekabi is under house arrest.
Meanwhile, Iran on Friday responded to Canada’s sanctions targeting Iranian news outlets, describing them as “absurd”.
Canada said this month it would impose additional sanctions on Iranian individuals and entities that have participated in or facilitated human rights abuses.
It said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its top leaders – more than 10,000 officers and senior members – would be banned from entering Canada for their “involvement in terrorism and systemic and serious human rights abuses”.
According to Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani, Canada’s latest sanctions also include Tasnim News Agency, Kihan newspaper, Noor News and Fars News Agency.
Kanani wrote on Instagram that these sanctions show “the absurdity of the West’s motto of free access to information and freedom of expression.”
Kanani added, “The US government’s punitive madness has gone viral and is quickly being transferred to its friends.”