Iranian chess players Sara Khadem and Atousa Pourkashiyan have competed without a hijab at an international tournament in Kazakhstan, in an apparent gesture of solidarity with ongoing nationwide protests in Iran.
Khadem and Pourkashiyan appeared in pictures published on the International Chess Federation's Flickr feed without their hijab, which is mandatory under Iran’s dress code, during their participation at this week's FIDE World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships in Almaty.
A growing number of Iranian sportswomen and celebrities have appeared in public without the mandatory headscarf over the past three months, while others have voiced support for the anti-government protests. Some of them have been arrested or summoned by the authorities.
Iranians have flooded streets across the country demanding more freedoms and women’s rights since the September 16 death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, after she was arrested by morality police for allegedly wearing a hijab "improperly."
Women have been at the forefront of the protest movement, the biggest threat to the clerical regime since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The Islamic Republic has responded to the protests with a bloody crackdown that human rights groups say has left nearly 500 dead, including at least dozens of children and women.
More than 18,000 people have reportedly been arrested. At least 100 are currently at risk of execution or facing death penalty charges, according to one human rights group, in addition to two young men hanged earlier this month.