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Iranian chess stars compete at world tournament without hijab

Sara Khadem and Atousa Pourkashiyan have not made a statement about their appearance at Fide tournament
Sara Khadem competes in the Fide World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan (Reuters)

Two Iranian chess players have participated in an international chess tournament without a hijab, in what some have interpreted as an act of protest. 

Photos posted online showed Sara Khadem and Atousa Pourkashiyan playing on Tuesday in the Fide World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan, without complying with Iran's mandatory dress code.

Iran has been swept by more than three months of protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in September, after she was arrested for allegedly wearing her headscarf "improperly".

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

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Pourkashiyan, 34, is a six-time Iranian champion chess player. Neither player has publicly commented about their appearance or posted photos of themselves without headscarves to their social media accounts.

Since demonstrations broke out in September, a number of Iranian athletes have also appeared to be showing 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.

Yet a few days after her competition, a post from Rekabi's Instagram account stated she had dropped her hijab by mistake and said: "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 so far. 

Death penalty

Amnesty 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 that has rocked Iran".

It said 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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