A female Iranian rock 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 over whether she has been put under house arrest.
“I am endlessly grateful for the support of you, all the people of Iran, the most decent people of the planet, athletes and non-athletes, and all your support in [the] international community,” Elnaz Rekabi wrote on Instagram late Friday.
Alongside a photo of herself rock climbing – in which she appears as a silhouette, suspended in the air – she added, “What I have gained till today was regarding the caring of you beautiful souls; and the future would not be a road without obstacles if you are not coming along.”
Videos posted to social media appeared to show Rekabi being greeted by crowds chanting “Elnaz the hero” when she arrived back at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport on Wednesday morning.
Her return to Iran comes amid nationwide protests in the country calling for greater freedoms for women, following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, a woman who died in police custody after her arrest for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly.
Consequently, some protesters see her as a symbol of the cause and rights groups have expressed fears for what will happen to her now she is back in Iran. A news website critical of the Iranian regime, IranWire, had claimed that Rekabi would be transferred to prison upon her arrival back in the country.
Rekabi herself has suggested – both on her Instagram account and in interviews with state media IRNA – that she had only “accidentally” 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.
Opinion: A prison fire. A brave climber. And a tide of change in Iran
Her latest comments on Instagram came as the head of the Iranian federation of mountaineering and sport climbing reportedly denied that Rekabi was under house arrest.
Speaking with the Iranian government-affiliated Borna News Agency, Reza Zarei said Rekabi was “now with her family.”
Zarei also denied rumors that he had received checks or property documents from Rekabi or any other athlete competing in the Asian Championship.
Borna news agency is affiliated with Iran’s Ministry of Sports and Youth.
CNN cannot independently verify whether or not Rekabi is under house arrest.
Meanwhile, Iran responded Friday to Canadian sanctions targeting Iranian news stations, describing them as an “absurdity.”
Canada said this month it would impose additional sanctions on Iranian individuals and entities that had participated in or enabled human rights violations.
It said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its top leaders – more than 10,000 officers and senior members – would now be barred from entering Canada “for their engagement in terrorism and systemic and gross human rights violations.”
According to Nasser Kanani, spokesperson for Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the latest Canadian sanctions also include the Tasnim News Agency, Kihan newspaper, Noor News, and Fars News Agency.
Kanani wrote on Instagram that such sanctions show “the absurdity of the West’s slogan regarding free access to information and freedom of expression.”
Kanani added, “The US government’s sanctions madness has gone viral and is quickly being transferred to its friends.”