We recently discussed the defection of Iran’s only Olympic female medalist due to the continuing discrimination and repression of women in that country. Now, Iranian chess master and referee, Shohreh Bayat, 32, has refused to return to Iran after pictures emerged of her without a hijab caused a controversy in the Islamic Republic. The decision is another painful example of the struggle of women under Islamic laws that deny them basic human rights.
Bayat was given the honor of being asked to referree the Women’s World Chess Championship in Shanghai this week. However, the publication of the photograph without her hijab sent Islamic conservatives into a frenzy with a slew of threats and calls for her arrest. Simply because she chose not to cover her hair.
The absurdity of her situation leaves most of us speechless. Islamic conservatives would rather chase successful women out of country than risk other women and girls would start to question the oppressive rules of their country.
Bayat said that the Iranian Chess Foundation sought to pressure her into a public apology. She refused. That act of principle and courage will hopefully inspire other women in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia to continue the fight for equal rights and free speech. Women are being arrested for making their own decisions on questions of faith or expression. They are a symbol of courage for all of us who value human rights.