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Why An Iranian Human Rights Lawyer Just Supported The World Chess Championship Boycott In Iran

Iran’s largest ever women’s sporting event has sparked protests over the country’s religious dress code

Human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. (Getty Images)

U.S. women’s chess player Nazi Paikidze-Barnes announced last week that she will boycott February’s Women’s World Chess Championship in Iran due to the nation’s compulsory hijab laws, which require women to wear religious head coverings.

The protest has been lauded by some of her peers but criticized by several Iranian female chess grandmasters, including Mitra Hejazipour, who called the boycott detrimental to female sport in the country, which has never before hosted a women’s sporting event of this size.

“These games are important for women in Iran,” Hejazipour told The Guardian. “It’s an opportunity for us to show our strength.”

On Thursday, Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent Iranian human rights lawyer, announced her support for Paikidze-Barnes in a post to her official Facebook page.

“Seriously, which is more important,” Sotoudeh wrote, according to a translation by University of Montreal Ph.D. candidate Vahid Yücesoy, “the idea of (not yielding to) compulsory veil or our country’s progress in the realm of chess?”

Soutoudeh rose to prominence in 2009 for defending imprisoned oppositionist activists, journalists, and politicians. She was arrested in 2010 for “spreading propoganda and conspiring to harm state security” and was originally sentenced to 11 years in prison, before being released early in 2013. While Sotoudeh was in prison, the European Parliament awarded her the €50,000 Sakharov Prize for individuals who make important contributions to the fight for human rights.

As of this writing, a petition created by Paikidze-Barnes calling to “Stop Women’s Oppression at the World Chess Championships by Challenging FIDE’s Decision” has garnered more than 15,000 signatures. Gary Walters, president of the U.S. Chess Federation, also issued a statement this week to FIDE, the World Chess Federation, in support of Paikidze-Barnes.

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