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Shohreh Bayat

Chief Arbiter
2020 Women’s World Chess Championship

After the last game of the 2020 Women’s World Chess Championship match, Shohreh found herself in Russia with an Iranian passport fearing for her life, a lashing or imprisonment if she returned to Iran.

In Her Own Words

Shohreh Bayat video without hijab crying in BBC interview

Shohreh Bayat’s Interview with the BBC
Feb. 24, 2020

She defected from Iran and sought asylum in Britain. See the rest of the story and photos below.

Shohreh Bayat standing without hijab

Being the Chief Arbiter at the 2020 Women’s World Chess Championship match is comparable to being the head referee in the NFL’s Super Bowl!

A Personal Awakening

Shohreh Bayat alone in red top without hijab

At 32 years old, Shohreh Bayat rose to the top of the International Chess Federation – FIDE arbiters.

Shohreh underwent a personal awakening midway through the match–followed by a life-changing decision and transformation by the end of the match.

What Happened?

In Shanghai, China, at the beginning of Round 3, Shohreh was photographed leaning over the chess table, where she appeared not to be wearing a hijab.

The photo went viral on Iranian social media, which is heavily monitored by the government there. See photo below.

Shohreh Bayat leaning over chess table without wearing hijab

Then What Happened?

“The accusation … was that I deliberately had no head covering in order to protest against the hijab,” Shohreh wrote in an email. “I was shocked and panicked.”

Shohreh told the BBC* that in the photo she was in fact wearing the hijab, which hung loosely on the back of her head in the image.

“Not wearing the hijab is a crime in Iran which is punishable by arrest, invalidation of the passport or prison,” she said. “I would love to return to Iran but…”

*Quotes from article by Nancy Gillen, reported by BBC.

Shohreh Bayat leaning over chess table wearing hijab


Shohreh said in her email that the Iranian Chess Federation asked her to issue a statement supporting the hijab, but she refused.

“In my conscience, I could not do it,” she said. “There are many people in prison in Iran because of the hijab, it’s a very serious issue.”

She also decided it would be unsafe to return to Iran, with the regime often imprisoning women who do not wear a hijab.

The Awakening, Decision & Transformation

Shohreh Bayat standing alone without wearing hijab at Closing Ceremony

“I believe people must be free to choose what they want to wear,” Shohreh said in the email. “I have never worn the hijab out of choice.”

She told the BBC that after reading the news accounts in Iran, she decided to stop wearing the hijab altogether so she could “be myself.”

“In my conscience, I could not do it.”

Shohreh Bayat standing without wearing hijab in pink top & red pants

“I have never worn the hijab out of choice.”

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