A chess referee told Reuters she is afraid to return to her native Iran after a photo circulated of her apparently not wearing a hijab during a tournament.
Shoreh Bayat, the chief referee presiding over the Women’s World Chess Championship in Shanghai, told the BBC that on Jan. 8, Iranian media were alleging that she wasn’t wearing a hijab in a photo. She asserts that she was wearing it loosely on the back of her head.
After the photo circulated, Bayat said that she figured she didn’t have anything else to lose, so she shed the hijab altogether. She said the Iranian chess federation asked her to write a letter defending the regime’s hijab; Bayat rebuffed the request.
“People should have the right to choose the way they want to dress,” she said. “It should not be forced. I was tolerating it because I live in Iran. I had no other choice.”
Bayat added that she can’t return to Iran because women are imprisoned for not wearing hijabs, and she fears that the regime would make an example of her.
“If I had a choice to go back to Iran, of course I would love to,” she said. “But I don’t know what would happen to me.”
International Chess Federation press secretary Misha Friedman told The New York Times, “We’re happy with the job that she is doing, so there is no problem from our perspective.”
Israeli Jewish writer and activist Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll tweeted that what’s happening to Bayat is “unbelievable, in 2020.”
Unbelievable, in 2020.
"She said Iran’s chess federation refused to write a letter guaranteeing her safety and instead tried to pressure her into writing an apology for the incident. She refused." https://t.co/zE2OPEOEEu
— Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll (@skjask) January 17, 2020
On Jan. 12, Kimia Alizadeh, the only female Iranian to win an Olympic medal, announced on Instagram that she was defecting, permanently leaving her country for Europe.
“[The Iranian regime] took me wherever they wanted,” she wrote. “I wore whatever they said. Every sentence they ordered me to say, I repeated. Whenever they saw fit, they exploited me.”
She added that the regime viewed her as nothing more than a pawn.
“The virtue of a woman is not to stretch her legs!” Alizadeh wrote.
Alizadeh had won a bronze medal in taekwondo in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Philanthropist Adam Milstein tweeted that “Iranians [are] fleeing faster than the media can keep up” and that “it’s time for a regime change.”
In March 2019, Iran was awarded a seat on the United Nations Women’s Rights Committee. U.N. Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer tweeted at the time that the U.N.’s announcement happened “a day after the regime sentenced women’s rights lawyer Nasrin Sotudeh to 38 years prison & 148 lashes.”