It’s not very often that we cover sports here at Hot Air (aside from the NFL, anyway) and we almost never cover chess tournaments. And yet here we are. A nasty situation erupted at the first leg of the Women’s World Chess Championship in Shanghai this week and it didn’t even involve any of the players. One of the referees was Shohreh Bayat, an Iranian chess champion in her own right, who was there refereeing some of the matches. She wasn’t accused of any sort of rules violation, however. She was captured in several pictures not wearing a hijab.

The pictures quickly went viral, including in her home country. And given Iranian attitudes about women being seen in public without a headscarf, Bayat immediately knew she was in trouble. The threats began to rain down on her quickly and now she has decided she has to defect because she fears for her safety if she returns home. (The Sun)

Shohreh Bayat was attending the first leg of the Women’s World Chess Championship in Shanghai when she was seen without her headscarf on – which has now made her fear for her safety.

Headscarves are compulsory in Iran, with punishments including public admonishment, fines or even arrest…

She told the BBC that she doesn’t feel safe returning to her home country of Iran, despite saying she had covered her head at international tournaments, following Iranian rules.

Here is the “offensive” way that Bayat was dressed while refereeing the match. (Woman standing in the center. Click for full size image.)

One of the many sad elements of this story is that Bayat wasn’t even looking to escape from Iran. It’s her home and where her family is located. She also claims she wasn’t even protesting the hijab during the tournament or trying to make a political statement. She apparently just didn’t feel like wearing it that day and since she was in a distant country she assumed nobody would notice. Such is the magic of Twitter.

Ms. Bayat told reporters that her personal belief is that the hijab should not be mandatory, but she tolerated it back home because she “had no other choice.” Now, thanks to a couple of photos going viral, if she returns to her home country she could face public physical abuse, a fine, or even prison time. She fears that the government might try to make an example of her.

And beyond all that, she’s horrified to see that her many accomplishments in competitive chess will now likely be completely overshadowed by this “controversy.” It’s hard enough for a woman to be recognized for any outstanding achievement there, so this is a professional nightmare for her.

But this really isn’t a story about Shohreh Bayat so much as it is further proof of the corrosive nature of Iranian society under the regime of the radical Muslim purists. In a society where women are generally treated as the property of men, one person’s admirable record of achievement can be wiped out and her future prospects ruined simply for the “sin” of being seen out in public without her head being covered.

Saudi Arabia has similar rules in place for women, but they’ve at least come a little way toward being more accepting of other cultures. Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama and former British Prime Minister Theresa May all visited the Kingdom and refused to don a headscarf. And somehow the world failed to end.

Not so in Iran. Bayat’s fears are both real and justified. Only two years ago, more than three dozen women were arrested in Iran on charges of “promoting corruption and prostitution” because they ventured outside without a headscarf. Each faced between one and ten years in prison and/or up to 74 lashes in the public square. (That many lashes basically constitutes a death penalty.)

This is one of most intolerant countries on the planet and we shouldn’t forget that when people are out in the streets defending Iran’s actions just because we took out one of their terrorist leaders. Let’s hope that Shohreh Bayat finds a safe harbor somewhere in a more tolerant country and that her family isn’t endangered back home in Iran.