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Iran’s Only Female Olympic Medalist Defects Over ‘Lies’ and ‘Injustice’

The only female athlete to win an Olympic medal for Iran announced this weekend that she had defected from the nation because of “hypocrisy, lies, injustice and flattery” and said she had been used as a “tool.”

The Olympian, Kimia Alizadeh, 21, announced her decision in an Instagram post accompanied by a photo from the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, where she won a bronze medal in taekwondo.

“They took me wherever they wanted,” she wrote. “Whatever they said, I wore. Every sentence they ordered, I repeated.”

Her comments came during a time of especially heightened tensions in the country after the Iranian authorities announced this weekend that the country’s forces had unintentionally downed a passenger plane last week near Tehran, killing all 176 people on board. The admission prompted outrage in the country and set off a series of protests over the weekend.

Iran has also been embroiled in a simmering conflict with the United States after an American drone strike killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, a powerful Iranian commander, and Tehran retaliated with missile strikes on bases in Iraq that house American troops.

While Ms. Alizadeh’s statement did not refer to her country’s geopolitical troubles, she did address the “oppressed people of Iran” and pointed to restrictive policies on women’s public conduct and appearance, including the “obligatory veil.”

“My troubled spirit does not fit into your dirty economic channels and tight political lobbies,” she wrote. “I have no other wish except for taekwondo, security and a happy and healthy life.”

The Iranian news outlet also reported that Ms. Alizadeh planned to compete in this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo, but noted that she would not represent Iran.

Photos shared on social media by Jaleh Yekta, an Iranian photographer based in Eindhoven, a city in the southern Netherlands, appear to show Ms. Alizadeh and her fiancé, Hamed Madanchi, taking part in a memorial service for victims of the Tehran plane crash. In the photo, Ms. Alizadeh stands alongside candles, flowers and pictures of those killed in the crash.

Mimoun El Boujjoufi, a taekwondo trainer in Eindhoven, told the Dutch broadcaster NOS that he had received a request about a month ago for Ms. Alizadeh to come train with him.

“She was on holiday in Europe but decided not to return to Iran with her partner,” Mr. El Boujjoufi told the broadcaster. “Of course she is welcome with us. We know her qualities. She is an asset to taekwondo in the Netherlands.”

A spokesman for the Netherlands’ migration minister said that the office would not comment on individual asylum applications.

Ms. Alizadeh was praised as a national hero after her Olympic victory at age 18, and many in Iran saw her as a symbol for emboldening girls to take part in sports despite the country’s oppressive policies for women and girls.

The president of Iran’s Taekwondo Federation, Seyed Mohammad Puladgar, said in a statement that his organization and the Olympic Committee had “made every effort to support” Ms. Alizadeh, and said the foreign media’s depiction of the situation was “simply false, unfair and untrue.”

Ms. Alizadeh’s announcement came four months after Saeid Mollaei, one of Iran’s biggest judo stars, defected to Germany. During last year’s judo World Championships, Iranian officials pressured Mr. Mollaei to either withdraw or intentionally lose his semifinal bout, to avoid being matched in the final against an Israeli rival.

Iranian athletes are forbidden to compete against Israelis.

[Read: France, Germany and the U.K. have taken the first step to reimposing sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.]

“A lot of our athletes are forced to deal with these matters — and their suffering is growing by the day,” Mr. Mollaei told the German news outlet Deutsche Welle in September. “Many athletes have left their country and left their personal lives there behind to pursue their dreams.”

Ms. Alizadeh said that she had embarked on a “difficult path,” but that she “didn’t want to sit at the table of hypocrisy, lies, injustice and flattery.”

“This decision is even harder than winning the Olympic gold,” Ms. Alizadeh wrote, “but I remain the daughter of Iran wherever I am.”

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