Iranian Chess Grandmaster Sara Khadem Competes In International Tournament Without Hijab

By RFE/RL's Radio Farda

A top female Iranian chess player has competed without a hijab at an international tournament in Kazakhstan, in an apparent gesture of solidarity with widespread protests in Iran triggered by the death of a young woman in police custody in September.

Iranian news outlets reported on December 26 that Iranian Woman Grandmaster Sara Khadem had competed at the FIDE World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships in Almaty without wearing a hijab. The hijab became compulsory in public for Iranian women and girls above the age of 9 after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was arrested by Iran's notorious morality police for wearing a hijab "improperly," Iranians have flooded streets across the country in protest, with women and even schoolgirls putting up unprecedented shows of defiance in what appears to be the the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

Hassan Tamini, head of Iran's chess federation, was quoted by the Fars news agency as saying that Khadem, also known as Sarasadat Khademalsharieh, participated in the chess competition without the backing of the federation.

"This chess player participated freely and at her own expense," Tamini said. "Khademalsharieh did not participate in these competitions through the federation, but went independently and did this action."

Khadem is the latest Iranian sportswoman to compete in an international event without a hijab in solidarity with Iranian protesters.

Several Iranian athletes and prominent public figures, including soccer star Ali Daei, have been summoned or arrested by the authorities and had their passports confiscated after showing support for anti-government protests.

In October, climbing champion Elnaz Rekabi sparked a controversy by competing in the Asian Championships in Seoul without a head scarf.

The government has blamed Western governments for the unrest and has responded to the protests with a bloody crackdown that human rights groups say has left almost 500 dead, including at least 62 children, and hundreds more injured.

Thousands of protesters have been arrested and officials have called for harsh penalties -- including the death sentence -- for offenders.

At least 100 Iranians are at risk of being executed over the protests, in addition to two young men already hanged.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda. With reporting by AFP