Iranian aviation authorities on Monday ordered a Dubai-bound flight to land and forced off the family of a former footballer who has been supportive of protests in the country.
Mahan Air Flight W563, which took off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport and was destined for Dubai, had among its passengers the wife and daughter of Ali Daei.
Daei, a former Iranian football captain who until recently held the record of an all-time international top goal scorer, has been extremely vocal in his support for ongoing protests in Iran.
In a statement, Daei confirmed that his wife and daughter were flying to Dubai but the flight they were traveling in was forced to land on Kish Island in the southern Hormozgan province.
"They forced my family to get out of the plane, but didn't arrest them,” he said, adding that he didn’t know the “reason for such behavior.”
The legendary footballer insisted that his wife and daughter “legally boarded the plane” in the Iranian capital and planned to visit Dubai "for a few days" and return to Iran.
State media, citing “informed sources,” said Daei’s wife had been barred from leaving the country by judicial authorities “due to her activities in calling for strikes.
Reports in the ISNA and Tasnim agencies said Daei’s wife had “illegally obtained an exit permit” and left the country without informing security officials or judicial authorities.
While Daei said the flight was brought back from Dubai before it landed on Kish Island, state media said the flight had not yet left the country’s airspace, fueling speculation.
Reports also insisted that the final destination of Daei’s wife and daughter was the US, although the former football star said his family wanted to spend a few days in Dubai and return to Iran.
The incident comes amid months-long protests in Iran sparked by the death of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, while in the custody of the country’s morality police this September.
Daei, who enjoys a massive following in Iran as the country’s most successful footballer, has been outspoken in his support for protests in a series of statements in recent months.
He and his wife have been accused by authorities of fomenting unrest by lending support to recent anti-government strikes that were called by anonymous groups.
A successful entrepreneur and restaurateur, Daei announced last month that all his businesses would remain shut during a three-day nationwide strike, followed by unconfirmed reports that some of his businesses in Tehran were sealed by authorities.
Another former footballer, Ali Karimi, reportedly based in Canada now, has emerged as a key figure in the ongoing protests.