Iran’s only female Olympic medallist Kimia Alizadeh says she has defected from the country after criticising the regime’s “hypocrisy, lies and injustice”.
The taekwondo star made history at Rio 2016 when, aged just 18, she captured bronze in the women’s under-57 kilograms division.
Her success generated many headlines but Alizadeh claimed Iranian authorities had since used her achievement for political gain.
She said they linked the Olympic medal to Iran’s law which makes wearing the hijab compulsory for women.
Iran has faced severe criticism from the west for alleged human rights abuses with Amnesty International claiming that the situation has “severely deteriorated”.
Women are said to face “entrenched discrimination”.
Alizadeh posted on Instagram in Farsi, alongside a black and white photograph of her at Rio 2016.
She said that she was in Europe, but had not received an offer to go there.
“Let me now freely introduce my censored identity,” she wrote.
“I am one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran.
“They took me wherever they wanted, whatever they said I wore.
“Every sentence they ordered I repeated.
“Whenever they saw fit, they confiscated me.
“They put my medals on the obligatory veil and attributed it to their management and tact.
“I didn’t care, none of us care about them, we are tools.
“Only those metal medals are important to buy political exploitation at whatever price they themselves have set.”
Alizadeh, who has two World Championship medals and won gold at the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics in Nanjing, said she faced comments such as “the virtue of a woman is not to stretch her legs”.
She was selected to be Iran’s flagbearer at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang but withdrew from the event amid long-standing injury problems, which some feared would cause her retirement.
“My troubled spirit does not fit into your dirty economic channels and tight political lobbies,” she added.
“I have no other wish except for taekwondo, security and a happy and healthy life.
“Dear Iranian people, I did not want to climb the stairs of corruption and lies.
“No-one has invited me to Europe and I haven’t been given an offer.
“But I was suffering from the hardship of homesickness because I didn’t want to sit at the table of hypocrisy, lies, injustice and flattery.
“This decision is even harder to win than the Olympic gold, but I remain the son of Iran wherever I am.”
Mahin Farhadizadeh, a deputy Iranian Sports Minister, said he had not read the Instagram post, according to the ISNA news agency and Reuters.
“As far as I know she always wanted to continue her studies in physiotherapy,” he said.
Alizadeh’s decision is the latest high-profile defection to hit Iran after judoka Saeid Mollaei joined the Mongolian team.
He was ordered to withdraw from the World Championships in Tokyo last year, where he was defending his under-81 kilograms title, to avoid the possibility of facing Israel’s Sagi Muki.
Threats were reportedly made to himself and his family and he initially sought asylum in Germany.
The news also comes at a time of high political tension in Iran following the assassination of top general Qasem Soleimani in a strike ordered by American President Donald Trump.
More than 50 people died in a stampede at his funeral and 176 people were killed when the Iranian military, who fired back at American airbases in Iraq, mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane.