On Dec. 26, the family of Iranian football superstar Ali Daei were forced to return to Tehran when their plane was directed back to the capital city.
While the reason for the change remains unknown, Daei has been known to be a staunch critic of Iran’s government.
Daei’s wife, Mona Farrokhazari, and their daughter were on board a Mahan Air plane, headed for Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) reported.
Right after they left Imam Khomeini Airport on Monday, the plane was suddenly called to turn around and land on Kish Island, where the family is said to have touched down.
Daei said his family were leaving Iran legally before the sudden stop to Kish Island, and were hoping to visit him in Dubai “for a few days trip and back.” The plane they were on reportedly left the island two hours later and continued to Dubai, according to flight-tracking website Flightradar 24.
“My daughter and wife were taken off the flight, but they were not arrested,” he said, according to a report by ISNA.
“Had they been banned [from leaving], the passport police system should have shown it. No-one has given me an answer about this,” Daei said according to ISNA.
The Tasmin news agency, allegedly tied to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, said that Mr. Daei’s wife was slapped with a travel ban earlier in December, due to her support for a wave of protests sweeping Iran. It also said she attempted to escape to the U.S., though no further details were discussed.
Daei has openly criticized the Iranian government, and previously voiced his support for protests following the death of 22-year-old Iranian-Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in September. He told the Agence France-Presse news agency in October that he had his passport confiscated for a while before it was returned to him.
In September, Daei urged the government on social media to “solve the problems of the Iranian people rather than using repression, violence and arrests.”
In early December, Daei’s jewelry shop and restaurant in Tehran were closed down by the judiciary supposedly due to “cooperation with anti-revolutionary groups in cyberspace to disrupt peace and business of the market,” local media reported.
Daei is a prominent sports star in Iran, being a former captain of the national football team. Between the 1990s and 2000s, he scored a total of 109 goals on the world stage. In 1998, he was part of Iran’s World Cup victory against the U.S.
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Unrest across Iran
In September, Iranian authorities arrested Mahsa Amini for supposedly violating the country’s dress code for women and died while in custody. It is believed she was detained for not wearing her headscarf the right way.
Her death sparked a nationwide protest against the government, culminating in one of the biggest challenges to the country’s rule in more than four decades. In the midst of the unrest, around 507 protesters were killed and more than 18,500 people were arrested, human rights activists in Iran said.
A 23-year-old was hanged in public earlier in December, while another was executed at a prison close to the capital after being suspected of stabbing a member of the Basij militia, the New York Times reported.
Daei is one of several celebrities who voiced their support for the protests. Taraneh Alidoosti, a famed Iranian actress, was arrested after criticizing the government for the execution of a protester.