DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – A prominent Iranian former soccer player who has expressed support for anti-government protests says his wife and daughter were barred from leaving the country on Monday after their plane made an unannounced stop en route towards Dubai.
Ali Daei, who had his passport briefly confiscated after returning to the country earlier this year, said his wife and daughter departed legally from the capital, Tehran, before the flight made an unannounced stopover on the Kish island in the Persian Gulf, where they were being interrogated by the authorities.
He said his daughter was released but the flight doors were now closed. He said his family had planned to travel to Dubai and return next week.
Flight tracking website Flightradar24 showed Mahan Air flight W563 hijacked over Kish Island before continuing on to Dubai a couple of hours later.
There have been no comments from the airline or Iranian authorities.
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.
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 been closely monitoring the unrest. Iranian authorities have not released figures for those killed or arrested.
Before his passport was confiscated, Daei, the top scorer of the national team and former captain of the Iranian team, had urged the government on social media to “solve the problems of the Iranian people rather than using repression, violence and arrests”. He later said that he had been returned to him.
The leaderless protesters, who rallied under the slogan “women, life, freedom,” say they are fed up after decades of social and political repression by a clerical establishment they see as corrupt and out of touch. Iranian authorities blamed the unrest on foreign adversaries such as the United States and Israel.
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.
In recent years, Iran has arrested a number of Iranian dual nationals and convicted them of crimes against state security in closed trials. Rights groups say such detainees are being denied due process and accuse Iran of using them as a bargaining chip with the West, which Iranian officials deny.