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'Elnaz Rekabi is a hero' – taekwondo fighter Parisa Farshidi

Andreas Sten-Ziemons | Farid Ashrafian
October 24, 2022

Parisa Farshidi is an Iranian Taekwondo fighter who lives in Germany. She spoke to DW about Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi, the death of Mahsa Amini, and the violent crackdown on protests against the Islamic regime.

Elnaz Rekabi on the climbing wall
Iran's Elnaz Rekabi competed without a headscarf at the World Championships in Seoul, South KoreaImage: iwsports.ir/picture alliance/dpa

"Elnaz Rekabi is definitely a folk hero," Parisa Farshidi tells DW. "While other Iranian athletes have attracted negative attention through their silence, she has courageously demonstrated her opposition to the dictatorial Islamic regime."

Farshidi was pleased to see that Rekabi was greeted with applause at Tehran's airport upon her return from Seoul, where the climber competed without a headscarf at the Asian Championships. 

"There can be no doubt that, by doing what she did, Elnaz Rekabi broke a major taboo in the eyes of the regime," she says.  

Farshidi knows all too well the pressures on female athletes who compete for Iran internationally. The taekwondo fighter won the silver medal for Iran at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China. However, she ran afoul of the regime's morality watchdogs by celebrating too freely – at least in their eyes. 

"I was detained by the morality police for wearing sunglasses and for painting my fingernails, and I was called in for interrogation," Farshidi recalls. "I was also called up on the carpet by the Iranian Taekwondo Federation and I was kicked off the national team." 

In 2019, Farshidi left Iran and applied for asylum in Germany where she has been living ever since. In Berlin, she leads a free life, something that is not possible for young women in Iran.  

'It could have been me instead of Mahsa Amini' 

Today, it frightens her when she thinks about what happened to Mahsa Amini last month.

Amini was arrested by the morality police for not wearing her headscarf properly. Her still unexplained death in police custody on September 16 was the catalyst for the street protests that have been taking place in Iran ever since – some of which have since been violently put down by security forces. 

"It could have been me instead of Mahsa Amini," Farshidi says. "I experienced the same thing she did when I went to university or training in Iran. The morality police harassed me in a similar way." 

Amini's death and the protests it sparked have left Farshidi feeling restless as she keenly follows the events in her homeland. 

"The last time I was able to talk to my sister, she told me that my family were also taking to the streets, protesting and fighting for freedom," Farshidi says. "My niece was mishandled by the police; they beat her on her hands until they bled." 

Farshidi is also worried about Rekabi. While the International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed hours after her arrival in Tehran on Wednesday that Iran's sports leadership had guaranteed Rekabi's safety, fears remain. The athlete issued a public statement after her arrival saying she regretted what had happened in Seoul. She said she had failed to wear a headscarf due to an "unintentional oversight."   

"This forced confession was definitely made under enormous pressure from the Iranian leadership," Farshidi insists. "Her outside contacts with acquaintances and with the media have come under scrutiny from the regime. It's very possible that her courageous act could lead to her being imprisoned and suspended from sports as well." 

Sardar Azmoun: 'You are the liars!' 

Farshidi is not the only prominent voice from the world of sports to take a stand against the regime.

One of the most prominent has been former Iran national team player Ali Karimi. The former Bayern Munich and Schalke forward condemned the authorities over Amini's death and wrote that not even holy water could "wash away this disgrace."

Karimi, who currently resides in Dubai would have likely faced arrest or worse had he uttered such statements in Iran. 

Sardar Azmoun playing for Bayer Leverkusen
Sardar Azmoun joined Bayer Leverkusen from Zenit Saint Petersburg in 2022Image: Laci Perenyi/picture alliance

Karimi is by no means alone in speaking out; another former Iran national team player, Hossein Mahini, was arrested for supporting the protests. He was released on bail a few days later. 

"Shame on all of you for how carelessly people are murdered. Long live Iranian women," Sardar Azmoun, an Iran international who plays for Bayer Leverkusen, wrote after Amini's death. Sardar's Instagram post has since been deleted. 

Ali Daei, who made more appearances for Iran than any other player, also took to social media to express support for the protesters. Iranian authorities responded by temporarily confiscating the passport of the former Bayern Munich, Arminia Bielefeld and Hertha Berlin player. 

Azmoun in turn posted a statement in support of Daei. 

"Even if Ali Daei should also die, you can't discredit him and break him!" the Leverkusen striker wrote. "The DNA of this idol is like the DNA of the people. May his shadow always hover over us! You are the liars here!" 

A return to freedom? 

"The Islamic regime has imposed massive restrictions on the internet. That's why social media are such a key part of the current freedom movement of the Iranian people," explains Farshidi, who is supporting the demonstrators as best she can – despite being so far away from home. 

"The only thing that I can do is to take part in demonstrations in Germany against the Iranian regime – and I spread the word via social media. 

"Everyone should see what inconceivable events are currently taking place in Iran. My fondest wish is that my fellow citizens win this confrontation with the Islamic regime, and that my country finally experiences freedom again."  

Rights lawyer: Iran has ‘long history of forced confessions’

This article was adapted from German.