The family of the Iranian soccer star who supported the protests is prevented from leaving the country

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

Ali Daei, who had his own passport 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 stopover on the island. Kish in the Persian Gulf, where they were questioned by the authorities.

He said that his daughter was released, but the doors of the flight were already closed. Her family had planned to travel to Dubai and return next week, she said.

Flight tracking website Flightradar24 showed that Mahan Air flight W563 diverted to Kish Island before traveling to Dubai a couple of hours later.

There was no comment from the airline or Iranian authorities.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency, believed to be close to the Revolutionary Guards, said a travel ban was placed on Daei’s wife earlier this month because of her support for the protests. She said that she tried to illegally circumvent the ban, without elaborating, and that her final destination was the United States. The reports did not name his wife or his daughter, who are not public figures.

Daei is one of several Iranian celebrities who have come 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 moral police in Tehran for allegedly violating the country’s strict dress code.

The protests quickly spread across the country and turned 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. Iranian authorities have not released figures for deaths or arrests.

Before his passport was confiscated, Daei, the international top scorer and former captain of the Iranian team, urged the government on social media to “solve the problems of the Iranian people instead of using repression, violence and arrests.” He later said that the document was returned to him.

The leaderless protesters, rallying under the banner of “women, life, freedom”, say they are fed up after decades of social and political repression by a clerical system they see as corrupt and disconnected. Iranian authorities have blamed the unrest on foreign adversaries such as the United States and Israel.

A woman walks through a shopping district without wearing the mandatory Islamic headscarf in downtown Tehran, Iran, on December 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

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

Iran has arrested several Iranians with dual nationality in recent years and convicted them of crimes against state security in closed-door trials. Rights groups say those detainees are being denied due process and accuse Iran of using them as bargaining chips with the West, something Iranian authorities deny.

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