Iranian chess referee fears arrest if she returns

Shohreh Bayat fled to the UK following concerns that she could face arrest and detention if she remained in Iran. (Hollie Adams)
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Updated 25 February 2020

Iranian chess referee fears arrest if she returns

  • Images circulated online appeared to show her without a headscarf at an event in China
  • Headscarves have been mandatory in Iran since the 1979 revolution

LONDON: A chess referee from Iran has fled to the UK following concerns that she could face arrest and detention after images circulated that appeared to show her without her headscarf in China.

Shohreh Bayat, 32, has denied that she was not wearing the headscarf, insisting that it was loosely in place over her hair. The controversy took place at the women’s world chess championships in Shanghai.

The hijab has been legally required for women’s dress in Iran since the 1979 revolution. Some women have challenged the authorities in recent years by wearing loose headscarves, or by discarding the hijab entirely at public demonstrations.

Punishment for women without the headscarf is severe. Earlier this year, Nasrin Sotoudeh was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes for defending women who peacefully protest the regime’s repressive hijab laws.

Other women in Iran were recently charged with “inciting prostitution” for not wearing headscarves, with Amnesty International describing a “worrying trend of crackdowns against women human rights defenders in Iran.”

Bayat told BBC Radio 4: “Iranian media used a photograph of me from an angle that they couldn’t see my headscarf, and they reported that I had no headscarf.”

She said: “The hijab is something that hurts me. I don’t believe in it and it’s not optional, it’s just forced by the government. We have to wear it. I believe it’s a tool of misogynistic oppression.”

She added: “My family live in Iran. I’m married. I couldn’t (go) back, and I had no chance to say goodbye to my family, to my husband. I don’t know when I can reach them again.”

No details are currently available on the wellbeing and whereabouts of her family. Bayat said she would face extreme punishment, such as a lashing, if she returned to Iran, as the authorities would want to make an example of her.

She told the BBC that many Iranian women do not have the option of removing the hijab, so they resort to wearing a loose headscarf.

After images began circulating on social media, Bayat fled from China to Russia, where she flew from Vladivostok to the UK. She said in Britain “I can be myself … I’m free now.”


Egypt to ban Ramadan gatherings to counter spread of coronavirus

Updated 48 min 29 sec ago

Egypt to ban Ramadan gatherings to counter spread of coronavirus

  • Egypt will ban any gatherings and public iftars

CAIRO: Egypt will ban any public religious gatherings during the holy Muslim fasting month Ramadan starting in around two weeks to counter the spread of the new coronavirus, a government statement said on Tuesday.
Muslims usually break the fast at sunset together with their families, go to the mosque to pray and spend maximum time with relatives.
But with health experts recommending social distancing measures during the global coronavirus crisis, Egypt will ban any gatherings and public iftars, or fast-breaking meals, as well as collective social activities, the ministry of Islamic endowments said in a statement.
Typically mass iftars are held for poor people.
The ban will also apply to the seclusion of Itikaf when Muslims spend the last 10 days of the month in mosques to pray and meditate, the ministry said.
Egypt has reported more than 1,300 confirmed cases of the coronavirus with more than 250 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.
Egypt is home to some 100 million people and also the seat of the Al-Azhar university, Egypt’s highest religious authority and one of the world’s most eminent seats of Sunni Muslim learning.
Ramadan will start around April 23 depending on the sighting of the moon marking the start of the month.
Egypt already last month ordered mosques and churches to shut their doors to worshippers. Prayer calls are broadcast via loudspeakers.