Sara Khadem, the Iranian chess player who fled to Spain after competing in an international tournament without wearing a mandatory hijab in solidarity with the mass protests back home, has been granted Spanish nationality, according to a government minister.
“In response to the exceptional circumstances concerning Mrs Sarasadat Khademalsharieh, I have just granted her Spanish nationality,” Justice Minister Pilar Llop was quoted in the country’s Official Journal of the State (BOE) as saying on Wednesday. He used Khadem’s full name.
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A 26-year-old chess grandmaster, Khadem participated in a World Cup event in Kazakhstan in December 2022, without wearing the headscarf, which is compulsory for women in Iran.
As she explained in an interview with the AFP news agency in February, she did so in support of the protest movement that erupted in Iran following the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini in September last year.
Amini, 22, had been arrested by Tehran morality police for an alleged breach of the country’s strict dress code for women.
A relative warned Khadem that she would be arrested if she returned to Iran.
She decided to travel to Spain in January with her husband, film director Ardeshir Ahmadi, and their 10-month-old son Sam.
They obtained residency in Spain through a “golden visa” scheme after investing at least 500,000 euros ($556,000) in property.
In January, she met Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, with whom she played a game of chess.
“How much I have learned today from a woman who inspires me,” Sanchez said on social media after hosting Khadem at his official residence, the Moncloa Palace.
“All my support to women athletes. Your example contributes to a better world,” he added.
Iranian female athletes are required to abide by the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women, mainly by covering their heads, when representing their country at international events.
She had said she started thinking of moving abroad after the birth of her son.
“I started to appreciate living in a place where Sam could go out in the streets and play without us being worried, and many things like that. Spain emerged as the best option, thinking of Sam,” she said.
Khadem is ranked 771st in the world, according to the International Chess Federation’s website, and 9th in Iran.