On Saturday Iran’s only female Olympic medalist Kimia Alizadeh, 21, announced that she was defecting from her birth-country. Alizadeh, who competes in taekwondo, won a bronze medal for Iran during the 2016 Rio Olympics.
According to AFP Alizadeh announced her defection on social media and criticized Iran’s political system, citing “hypocrisy”, “lying”, and “injustice”. In her posts she wrote that, “I am one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran with whom they have been playing for years.”
“I wore whatever they told me to wear. I repeated everything she told me to say,” continued Alizadeh, referring to veils that women are ordered to wear in public in Iran.
Alizadeh was training for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in the Netherlands when she announced her intention to never return to the country.
The taekwondo competitor announced her decision to leave Iran shortly after news broke of the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 (PS752). That airliner crashed on January 8th after being struck by a missile launched by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). All of the 176 people on board the plane were killed.
Iran’s government has admitted to accidentally shooting down the plane, which was carrying 82 Iranian nationals and 63 Canadian nationals, along with people from the Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan and United Kingdom.
The downing of PS752 happened on the same night Iran launched a missile attack against US occupied bases in Iraq. This was in response to the US drone-killing of Iranian general Qassim Soleimani.
The tragedy of PS752 has been met with protests and civil unrest inside of Iran. Iranians had already been protesting their government prior to that incident and the killing of Soleimani. Anti-government protests have been held in Iran since November motivated by an increase in fuel prices and economic hardships.
In addition to those two issues the protests are viewed as part of an overall campaign of dissent against the Islamic Republic, which has existed — in varying scales and intensities — since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The Islamic Revolution installed a theocracy in Iran, which has since governed the country using strict interpretations of Islam. Post-Revolution Iran has been criticized by both Iranian and international human rights groups for its oppression of women, persecution of LGBTQIA people, imprisonment and torture of dissidents, and the execution of minors.