Iranian arbiter Shohreh Bayat settles in the UK for now

by Macauley Peterson
2/24/2020 – A subplot of the recent Women's World Championship in Shanghai and Vladivostok was the plight of accomplished arbiter Shohreh Bayat from Iran. She was the target of political and religiously-motivated media critiques in her home country when she was photographed, while working as the chief arbiter in Shanghai, wearing a loose-fitting hijab — too loose for conservative observers in the Islamic Republic. That led her to fear for her safety and forgo her return ticket home in favour of a detour to the U.K. In a tearful interview, she recently recounted her story for the BBC.

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"My family is in Iran. My home is in Iran."

Shohreh Bayat is a well-regarded international arbiter who was pursuing her profession at the FIDE Women's World Championship in Shanghai, when her liberal manner of wearing the Islamic headscarf — which is required of Iranian women — got her into political hot water in her home country.

"The punishment of not wearing hijab in Iran is lashing, being in prison, invalidation of passport...I was just shocked, I didn't know what had happened in my life, because I couldn't take the risk of coming back in Iran and being imprisoned," she told the BBC's Newsnight anchor Emily Maitlis.

Bayat appealed to the President of the Iranian Chess Federation, Mehrdad Pahlavanzadeh, to guarantee her safety, but he was unable to do so, so she saw no choice but to find a new destination following the match — narrowly won by Ju Wenjun on January 24th.

Bayat is married, and she's unsure if she can ever return to Iran to see her husband and extended family. Her emotional interview with the BBC is well worth watching for an insight into the reality many Iranian women face — a modern day Sophie's Choice.

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Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.

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