Iranian football legend Ali Daei said a plane travelling from Tehran to Dubai had been rerouted, and his wife and daughter ordered off, according to Iranian news organisations.
Daei — one of Iran’s most famous footballers and a former German Bundesliga striker whose 109 goals at the international level were long unsurpassed until Cristiano Ronaldo overtook him — said his wife and daughter had flown on a Mahan Air flight, taking off from the Iranian capital’s Imam Khomeini Airport on Monday, headed to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) reported.
But the plane was rerouted and made to land on Iran’s Kish Island in the Gulf, where “Ali Daei’s wife and daughter got off the plane”, the state news agency IRNA said.
Daei — who has expressed support for the protest movement that has rocked Iran since the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, after her arrest in Tehran by morality police for an alleged breach of the country’s strict dress code for women — said he was trying to arrange his family’s return to Tehran.
“My daughter and wife were taken off the flight, but they were not arrested,” Daei 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. I really don’t know what is the reason for these things,” he said.
“My wife and daughter were going to Dubai for a few days trip and back”, he added.
The flight-tracking website Flightradar24 showed Mahan Air Flight W563 being diverted to Kish Island before travelling onward to Dubai a couple of hours later.
Quoting the judiciary, IRNA said that “Daei’s wife had pledged to inform the relevant institutions of her decision before leaving the country”, following their “association with the groups against the Islamic revolution and rioters and calling for strikes”.
There was no comment from the airline or Iranian authorities.
The semi-official Tasnim news agency, believed to be close to the Revolutionary Guard, said a travel ban was imposed on Daei’s wife earlier this month because of her support for the protests. It said she tried to illegally bypass the ban, without elaborating, and that her final destination was the United States. The reports did not name his wife or daughter, who are not public figures.
Protests have gripped Iran since the death in September of Iranian-Kurdish Amini.
Daei, on September 27, used social media to call on the government to “solve the problems of the Iranian people rather than using repression, violence and arrests”.
In October, Daei told the Agence France-Presse news agency that his passport was confiscated by police upon his return from abroad, before being returned to him a few days later.
Earlier in December, his jewellery shop and restaurant in Tehran’s fashionable north were sealed, with local media reporting they had been ordered shut for “cooperation with anti-revolutionary groups in cyberspace to disrupt peace and business of the market”.
Daei — whose glittering career involved playing in Iran’s 2-1 World Cup victory against the United States in 1998 — said he has been targeted by threats after backing the protests triggered by the death of Amini.
The protests have spread across the country and have posed the biggest challenge to Iranian authorities in decades. At least 507 protesters have been killed, and more than 18,500 people have been arrested, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRAI), a group that has closely monitored the unrest.
Iranian authorities have not released figures for those killed or arrested.
The leaderless protesters, rallying under the slogan “women, life, freedom”, say they are fed up after decades of social and political repression by a clerical establishment.
Iranian authorities have blamed the unrest on foreign adversaries like the US and Israel.