Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has met with an Iranian chess player who defected to Spain after she competed without a hijab at an international tournament in Kazakhstan.
“How much I have learned today from a woman who inspires me,” Sanchez tweeted after hosting Sarasadat Khademalsharieh, better known as Sara Khadem, at his official residence in Madrid on January 25.
“All my support to women athletes. Your example contributes to a better world,” he added.
Sanchez posted a photo showing the 25-year-old Khadem and the prime minister chatting on a couch without wearing a hijab. On other pictures the two are seen engaging in a game of chess at a table.
Khadem arrived in Spain in early January after taking part in the FIDE World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships in Almaty in December without a headscarf, which is mandatory under the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.
“To be honest, even before playing this tournament, I never wore a hijab. I mean, I only put it on for the cameras because I was representing Iran. Somehow, it didn’t feel good to not be myself,” the chess player said in a recent interview with Spanish newspaper El País.
“So I just decided not to do that anymore.”
Khadem, who holds the title of Woman Grandmaster, is ranked 771st in the world, according to the International Chess Federation’s website, and 9th in Iran.
Demonstrations against Iran’s clerical rulers have swept the country since mid-September, when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in the custody of morality police. Amini had been detained for allegedly wearing a hijab "improperly."
Women have been at the forefront of the protest movement, the biggest threat to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution.
A growing number of Iranian sportswomen and celebrities have appeared in public without the mandatory headscarf over the past four months, while others have voiced support for the anti-government protests. Some of them have been arrested, summoned by the authorities and had their passports confiscated.