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Iran: Chess player 'moving to Spain' after competing without headscarf

Sara Khadem is not returning to Iran and is believed to be relocating to Spain with her husband and child
Sara Khadem sits in front of a chess board during a game (Reuters)

An Iranian chess player is reportedly resettling in Spain after photos showed her competing in an international contest without a headscarf, in what some have interpreted as an act of protest.

Sara Khadem, Iran's top-ranked female chess player, will not be returning to Iran after the competition, according to sources speaking to Spanish newspaper El Pais. It is not clear whether she, her child and her husband hold residency permits or whether they would apply for asylum.

Khadem, 25, also known as Sarasadat Khademalsharieh, has been a rising star in Iran's chess world.

Reports of the move come after photos posted online showed Khadem and fellow chess player Atousa Pourkashiyan playing in the Fide World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan, without complying with Iran's mandatory dress code.

Iranian chess stars compete at world tournament without hijab
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Iran has been swept by more than three months of protests since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in September.

Since demonstrations began, a number of Iranian athletes have also appeared to show solidarity with protesters in the country. In October, rock climber Elnaz Rekabi participated in a competition in South Korea without wearing the mandatory headscarf and returned home to a hero's welcome in Tehran from protesters.

A few days after her competition, a post on Rekabi's Instagram account stated she had dropped her hijab by mistake and added: "I firstly apologise for all the concerns I have caused."

Iranian actresses have also taken off their hijabs in protest. Mahdi Kouhyan, a member of the House of Cinema association, said on 4 December that 40 cinema figures have been arrested for their protests. 

Death penalty

Amnesty International has said that Iranian authorities are seeking the death penalty for at least 26 people in what it called "sham trials designed to intimidate those participating in the popular uprising".

It said that all of those facing death sentences had been denied the right to adequate defence and access to lawyers of their choosing. Rights groups say defendants have instead had to rely on state-appointed attorneys who do little to defend them.

Human Rights Activists News Agency, an Iranian rights group, said that as of last week, 506 protesters had been killed, including 69 minors. It said 66 members of the security forces had also been killed. In addition, it said that as many as 18,457 protesters have been arrested.

Officials have said that up to 300 people, including members of the security forces, have lost their lives in the unrest.

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