A prominent former footballer in Iran who has shown support for anti-government protests says his wife and daughter were banned from leaving the country on Monday after their plane made an unannounced stopover en route to Dubai.
Ali Daei, whose own passport was briefly confiscated after returning to the country earlier this year, said his wife and daughter left the capital Tehran legally before the flight made an unannounced stop on the Persian Gulf island of Kish , where they had been questioned by authorities.
He said his daughter had been released, but the doors of the flight had already been closed. He said his family planned to travel to Dubai and return next week.
Flight tracking website Flightradar24 revealed that Mahan Air Flight W563 was diverted to Kish Island before continuing on to Dubai a few hours later.
There was no comment from the airline or Iranian authorities.
The semi-official Tasnim news agency, which is close to the Revolutionary Guards, said earlier this month that Daei’s wife was banned from traveling because of her support for the protests. It said she illegally attempted to circumvent the ban, without elaborating further, and that her final destination was the US. The reports did not name his wife or daughter, who are not public figures.
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 morality police in Tehran for allegedly violating the country’s strict dress code.
Protests quickly spread across the country, escalating into calls for the overthrow of the theocracy established after the 1979 revolution, making it one of the biggest challenges to clerical rule in more than four decades.
At least 507 protesters have been killed and more than 18,500 people have been arrested, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that has closely followed the unrest. The Iranian authorities have not released figures on the number of deaths or arrests.
Before his passport was confiscated, Daei, an international top scorer and former Iranian team captain, had urged the government on social media 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 tired of decades of social and political oppression by a church establishment they see as corrupt and unattainable. Iranian authorities have blamed the unrest on foreign adversaries such as the US and Israel.
Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guards said in a statement on Sunday that it had arrested seven individuals in the southeastern city of Kerman with a “direct link” to Britain involved in the protests. It said some members of the network had dual citizenship, without elaborating further.
In recent years, Iran has arrested and convicted a number of Iranian dual nationals for state security violations in closed court cases. Rights groups say such detainees are not being denied due process and accuse Iran of using them as a bargaining chip with the West, something Iranian officials deny.