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Iranian chess player who competed without hijab ‘lands in Spain after threats’

An Iranian chess player who competed without a hijab has arrived in Spain after being warned not to return home, according to a source close to her.

Sara Khadem, 25, took part in a tournament in the Kazakh city of Almaty last week and was pictured without the head covering, which is mandatory in Iran.

A source close to Ms Khadem, who did not want to be named, said she had received multiple phone calls warning her against returning home.

Other calls said she should go back and promised to “solve her problem”.


The chess player’s family have also received threats, the source said, adding that she had landed in Spain on Tuesday.

Other sportspeople from Iran have also appeared without a hijab in recent months, such as the climber Elnaz Rekabi.

The gestures have been widely interpreted as a protest against Iran’s hardline rulers after the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, who was detained for allegedly not wearing her hijab correctly.

Sara Khadem. Pic: Lennart Ootes/FIDE

Newspapers including Spain’s El Pais reported last week that Ms Khadem was planning to relocate to the country.

Tournament organisers are said to have arranged for four bodyguards to stand outside Ms Khadem’s hotel room as the pictures of her uncovered hair appeared in the media.

Another Iranian player at the event, Atousa Pourkashiyan, was also pictured without a hijab.

Atousa Pourkashiyan. Pic: Lennart Ootes/FIDE
Iran’s Atousa Pourkashiyan. Pic: Lennart Ootes/FIDE

Last month, the Iranian men’s football team did not sing the national anthem at their first World Cup game in apparent protest. However, they sang it in their other matches.

Ali Daei, the retired Iranian football captain, who has also voiced support for protesters, said last week that his family had been prevented from leaving the country.

Daei said their plane was diverted on its way to Dubai.

Protests after Ms Amini’s death began at the end of last year in one of the most vocal challenges in decades to Iran’s strict religious leaders.

Hundreds are believed to have been killed by police and security services who tried to crack down on the dissent.


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