The protesting soccer star’s family balked at leaving Iran

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

Ali Daei, whose own passport was briefly confiscated after returning to the country earlier this year, said his wife and daughter legally departed from the capital, Tehran, before the flight made an unannounced stop on the Persian Gulf island of Kish, where they were questioned by 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 Mahan Air Flight W563 diverted to Kish Island before continuing to Dubai a few hours later.

There was no comment from the airline or Iranian authorities.

Daei is one of them 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.

The protests spread quickly across the country and escalated into calls for the overthrow of 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.

Before his passport was confiscated, 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”. He later said it was returned to him.

The leaderless protesters, rallying under the slogan “Women, Life, Freedom,” say they are fed up with decades of social and political repression by a clerical establishment they see as corrupt and out of touch. Iranian authorities have blamed foreign opponents such as the US and Israel for the unrest.

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guards said in a statement on Sunday it had arrested seven people with “direct links” to Britain who were involved in the protests in the southeastern city of Kerman. Some members of the network were said to have dual nationality, without elaborating.

Iran has arrested a number of Iranians with dual nationality in recent years and tried them in closed trials for state security crimes. Rights groups say such detainees are denied due process and accuse Iran of using them as a bargaining chip with the West, which Iranian officials deny.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. The protesting soccer star’s family balked at leaving Iran

Sarah Y. Kim

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