LONDON: An Iranian chess referee is scared of returning to her home country after she was photographed at a match in Shanghai with her head uncovered.
The photo of Shohreh Bayat, 32, at the Women’s World Chess Championship started circulating in Iranian state media. The reports claimed she was not wearing a headscarf and was protesting against Iran’s strict hijab law, which requires women to cover their hair and dress modestly.
“I turned on my mobile and saw that my picture was everywhere [in Iranian media]. They were claiming I was not wearing a headscarf and that I wanted to protest against the hijab,” Bayat told the BBC.
The match was the first time that Bayat was the event’s chief arbiter — an achievement that has been overshadowed by the controversy over her head appearing uncovered.
Bayat told the BBC that although she disagrees with the mandatory hijab law and believes that everyone has the right to dress how they like, she always covers her head at international tournaments and her head was actually covered during the match.
She said Iran’s chess federation instructed her to “write something” in response to the uproar from the media, which she took to mean an apology and a defense of Iran’s dress code. She said she refused.
Bayat is now scared to return to Iran and fears the government will “make an example” of her.
One of only a few top level women arbiters in the world and the only one in Asia, Bayat said she is unhappy at the fact that the focus of Iranian media coverage was on her hijab and not her success as an Iranian woman.
“I can’t think of any Iranian women who have worked at such a high-level tournament. But the only thing that matters for them is my hijab, not my qualification. That really bothers me,” Bayat said.
Bayat’s case comes soon after Iran’s first female Olympic medal-winner defected. Taekwondo champion Kimia Alizadeh posted on Instagram that she had left Iran partly because she was fed up with its mandatory dress code.
Alizadeh, who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, implied in an Instagram post that she had moved to Europe.
“No one has invited me to Europe and I haven’t been given a tempting offer. But I accept the pain and hardship of homesickness because I didn’t want to be part of hypocrisy, lies, injustice and flattery,” she said.
“I am one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran whom they’ve been playing for years... I wore whatever they told me and repeated whatever they ordered. Every sentence they ordered I repeated,” she wrote.”None of us matter for them, we are just tools.”
She said that while the government exploited her medals politically, officials would humiliate her with remarks such as “It is not virtuous for a woman to stretch her legs!“
The cases come as many high profile Iranians have made outspoken comments against the government as anti-regime protests continue after the country’s military shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane.
Taraneh Alidoosti, one of Iran’s most popular female actors who has appeared in an Oscar-nominated film and acclaimed TV dramas, wrote in a post on Instagram on Sunday that Iranians are not “citizens” but “captives”.
“I fought this dream for a long time and didn’t want to accept it. We are not citizens. We never were. We are captives,” she wrote
Alidoosti said that she had replaced her profile picture with the color black in mourning for demonstrators shot dead by security forces last November.
Iranian authorities continue to quell protests and fired live ammunition to disperse demonstrators in Tehran on Sunday.
At least two presenters working for state Iranian broadcaster IRIB announced their resignation in the wake of attempts by state officials to deny that Ukrainian jetliner 752 had been shot down by mistake by members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp. (IRGC) air defense force.
Zahra Khatami and her colleague Saba Rad resigned from their roles at IRIB, saying they could not continue to work in TV after the jetliner incident.
A third presenter announced she had left her job some time ago after lying on behalf of the state for 13 years. In an Instagram post, Gelare Jabbari apologized for broadcasting “lies” and wrote: “It was very hard for me to believe that our people have been killed. Forgive me that I got to know this late. And forgive me for the 13 years I told you lies.”