‘I couldn’t tolerate it any longer’: how Iranian chess referee with secret Jewish heritage was forced to live a ‘fake’ life – Telegraph.co.uk


Back at home in Iran, the slender woman, who has a penchant for bright lipstick, would put on mens clothes when she wanted to go to a stadium to watch football with friends - an activity off-limits to women.

Iranian women have staged protests in recent years against the compulsory wearing of the hijab, spreading the images of themselves without head coverings on social media and protesting in the streets.

Neglecting to wear a hijab can land any woman in Iran in prison under the penal code introduced shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iranian authorities have arrested dozens of women who have taken part in the protests. Some of them were forced to make televised confessions, some were held in solitary confinement and subject to torture and beatings.

Never a believer in the hijab, 33-year old Ms Bayat, who calls it an ugly scarf, still felt like she had to comply - even if that meant wearing it on the back of her head as an increasing number of women in Iran do these days.

But her lax attitude finally caught up with her at the 2020 Womens World Chess Championship in January where Ms Bayat was to be the chief arbiter.

It was the highlight of my career, she said of the tournament held in Shanghai and Vladivostok.

It took just one picture of her snapped earlier that day - standing by the chess board and smiling at the camera with her scarlet headscarf around her neck but not visible on the top of her head - for Iranian hardliners to declare her a public enemy.

After the match she stopped by her hotel before dinner to check her mobile phone since referees were not allowed to carry them at tournaments.

My mobile was full of messages saying: Please, dont come back, they will arrest you, Ms Bayat recalled in the interview before she started sobbing, overwhelmed with emotions of what happened eight months earlier.

I woke up the following day and saw that the (Iranian) Federation removed my picture It was like I didnt exist, she said, dabbing her eyes with paper napkins.

That morning she went to the tournament without a hijab: I knew I couldnt tolerate it any longer.

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'I couldn't tolerate it any longer': how Iranian chess referee with secret Jewish heritage was forced to live a 'fake' life - Telegraph.co.uk

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