Iran’s Only Female Olympic Medalist Defects

Iran’s only female Olympic medalist has defected from the Islamic Republic calling herself “one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran.”

Taekwondo athlete Kimia Alizadeh posted a letter on Instagram as Iran’s semiofficial ISNA news agency said she had fled to the Netherlands. She criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf and accused officials in Iran of sexism and mistreatment.

“Whatever they said, I wore,” Alizadeh wrote in the letter posted Saturday. “Every sentence they ordered, I repeated.”

She described her decision to leave Iran as difficult, but necessary.

There has been no immediate response from Iranian authorities. ISNA said Alizadeh had been reported injured and unable to compete. There are rumors Alizadeh might try to compete under another nation’s flag at the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo.

Alizadeh, 21, won a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Her defection comes at a time of high tensions between Iran and the United States.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, Saeed Mollaei, an Iranian judoka, left the country for Germany. He said Iranian officials had forced him to not compete with Israeli judoka.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.