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A Chess Player Has Refused To Go To Iran As She Doesn't Want To Wear A Headscarf

Soumya Swaminathan said the law would be a "direct violation of my basic human rights."

Posted on June 14, 2018, at 5:50 a.m. ET

Soumya Swaminathan is a champion Indian chess player.

She is currently ranked 97th in the world among female chess players.
Soumya Swaminathan

She is currently ranked 97th in the world among female chess players.

The 29-year-old has competed around the world and currently holds the title of India's Woman Grandmaster.

(This is her competing in the Asian Individual Chess Championship in China, last year.)
Soumya Swaminathan

(This is her competing in the Asian Individual Chess Championship in China, last year.)

But over the weekend, she announced she would ask to be excused from the upcoming Asian Nations Cup Chess Championship in Iran.

The championship is being held in Hamadan from July 26 to Aug. 4.
Soumya Swaminathan / Via Facebook: permalink.php

The championship is being held in Hamadan from July 26 to Aug. 4.

"I find the Iranian law of compulsory Headscarf to be in direct violation of my basic Human Rights including my right to freedom of expression, and right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion," she wrote on Facebook.

"I do not wish to be forced to wear a headscarf or burkha," she wrote. "It seems that under the present circumstances, the only way for me to protect my rights is not to go to Iran," she said.Swaminathan said she was very disappointed to see that players' rights and welfare were not given more attention, although she added it was still a huge honor to be picked for the Indian national team. "I deeply regret that I will be unable to participate in such an important championship," she said, but "some things simply cannot be compromised." BuzzFeed News has reached out to Swaminathan for further comment.
Soumya Swaminathan

"I do not wish to be forced to wear a headscarf or burkha," she wrote. "It seems that under the present circumstances, the only way for me to protect my rights is not to go to Iran," she said.

Swaminathan said she was very disappointed to see that players' rights and welfare were not given more attention, although she added it was still a huge honor to be picked for the Indian national team. "I deeply regret that I will be unable to participate in such an important championship," she said, but "some things simply cannot be compromised." BuzzFeed News has reached out to Swaminathan for further comment.

Her decision was welcomed by many people online.

Twitter / Nausheen Khan
Twitter / Sagarika Ghose
Twitter / Rajiv Malhotra
Twitter / Anshul Saxena

Other athletes, such as Indian cricketeer Mohammad Kaif, also applauded her decision.

Twitter / Mohammad Kaif

It's not the first time an Indian athlete has declined to play in Iran because of the headscarf law. In 2016 sport shooter Heena Sidhu declined to compete in Tehran, tweeting that making competitors wear hijabs was against the "spirit" of the game.

Sidhu (center) pictured earlier this year after winning gold at the Commonwealth Games in Australia.
Reuters

Sidhu (center) pictured earlier this year after winning gold at the Commonwealth Games in Australia.

Sidhu tweeted her support for Swaminathan's decision.

Twitter / Heena Sidhu

However, while many people agreed with Swaminathan's decision, others were cautious about the support.

Twitter / Nida Kirmani

There were a number of nationalistic Twitter users who celebrated her decision.

Twitter / @tomar_pradeep_7
Twitter / Chirag. P. Bhatt

Iran's compulsory headscarf law was introduced in 1983, following the 1979 revolution. However, in recent years there has been a significant pushback against the law.

Raheb Homavandi / Reuters

One of the most significant movements has been the White Wednesday protests, which campaign to allow women to wear what they want.

instagram.com

But activists still face serious threats and the possibility of jail. On Wednesday, prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has defended many women prosecuted by the Iranian authorities for taking off their scarves, was detained by police, according to her husband.

In February, the Iranian authorities arrested 29 people who they said had been "deceived" into joining the protests against the compulsory hijab law.

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