Top Iranian chess referee Shohreh Bayat has been granted asylum in the UK after being photographed without a hijab at an international tournament last year.
The 32-year-old is an arbiter for the International Chess Federation (FIDE) and was chief arbiter of the Women's World Chess Championship 2020. What should have been a career highlight pitched Bayat into the centre of a cultural row in January after images circulated of her not wearing the headscarf, which is mandatory in Iran.
Since the incident Bayat, who was Asia's first ever female category A international chess arbiter, has been residing in England and not returned to Iran for fear of being arrested. In September she revealed to The Telegraph that she also has Jewish roots that she had kept hidden in Iran and, while waiting for asylum in Britain, had been able to celebrate her first Rosh Hashanah - the Jewish New Year.
“All my life was about showing a fake image of myself to society because they wanted me to be an image of a religious Muslim woman, which I wasn’t,” she told the newspaper from her temporary home outside London.
On Friday, October 30 several journalists and senior figures in British chess took to Twitter to report that Bayat's application for asylum in the country had been successful. "England's gain is Iran's loss," wrote Telegraph chess correspondent Malcolm Pein. "Look forward to see her officiating at many of our tournaments."
Bayat and her family have come under immense pressure since the January incident. The referee has set her Twitter channel to private and her Twitter bio reads "My achievements have been denigrated in Iran for refusing to wear compulsory hijab." Chess champion and vice-president of FIDE Nigel Short has also revealed that Bayat's father Kiumars was forced to quit as President of the Gilan Chess Association as punishment for her perceived transgression.
Restrictions imposed by the Iranian regime have forced several top chess players to stop playing under the Iranian flag this year. On January 2, Mehrdad Pahlevanzadeh, the president of Iran’s Chess Federation, expelled female grandmaster Mitra Hejazipour from the national team for removing her headscarf during the World Rapid & Blitz Chess Championship in Moscow. Hejazipour is now settled in France. Iranian chess prodigy Alireza Firouzja has also taken asylum in France because of the Islamic Republic’s ban on competing against Israelis. In the summer, Ghazal Hakimifard, an Iranian Women Grandmaster, also switched teams to play for Switzerland.