February 3, 2023

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Soccer star says his family stopped leaving Iran to support protests

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – A prominent former soccer player in Iran, who has expressed his support for anti-government protests, said his wife and daughter were prevented from leaving the country on Monday after their plane en route to Dubai made an unannounced stopover.

Ali Daei, whose own passport was briefly confiscated earlier this year, said his wife and daughter legally left the capital Tehran before the flight made an unannounced stop on the island of Kish in the Persian Gulf, where they were questioned by Iranian authorities.

He said his daughter had been released but the doors to the flight had been closed by then. He said his family planned to travel to Dubai and return next week.

Flight tracking website Flightradar24 showed that Mahan Air Flight W563 was diverted to Kish Island in part of Iran before continuing to Dubai a few hours later.

There was no comment from the airline or Iranian authorities.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency, which is believed to be close to the Revolutionary Guards, said a travel ban was imposed on Mr Daei’s wife earlier this month for her support of the protests. It said she had attempted to illegally circumvent the ban without elaborating and that her ultimate destination was the United States.

Mr Daei is one of several Iranian celebrities who have spoken out in support of the protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September. The Kurdish woman died after being arrested by Iran’s vice squad in Tehran for allegedly violating the country’s strict dress code for women.

The protests quickly spread across the country and escalated into calls to overthrow the theocracy established after the 1979 revolution, making it one of the greatest challenges to clerical rule in over four decades.

At least 507 protesters were killed and more than 18,500 people arrested, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that has been closely monitoring the unrest. The Iranian authorities have not released figures for those killed or arrested.

Iran has also executed some protesters, including a 23-year-old man who was publicly hanged earlier this month.

Before his passport was confiscated, Mr Daei, a top international goalscorer and former Iran team captain, took to social media to urge the government to “solve the problems of the Iranian people instead of using repression, violence and arrests”.