A record-breaking Iranian footballer who has criticized the authorities’ crackdown on anti-regime protesters says his family has been barred from leaving the country.
Ali Daei, who scored 109 international goals for Iran, the most of any country before Cristiano Ronaldo broke his record, said his wife and daughter were questioned by officials after the hijacking a flight they were on.
They left the Iranian capital of Tehran legally, the former footballer said, before their plane made an unscheduled stopover on the island of Kish in the Persian Gulf.
Daei, 53, said her daughter was released but the plane doors had already closed by then. His family planned to travel to Dubai and return next week, he said.
He publicly supported anti-government protests which erupted after the death of a woman in police custody.
His passport was briefly confiscated after he returned home earlier this year.
On social networks, the former captain of the team had urged the government to “solve the problems of the Iranian people rather than resorting to repression, violence and arrests”.
Flight tracking website Flightradar24 lists Mahan Air flight W563 as being diverted to Kish Island before flying to Dubai hours later.
The airline and Iranian authorities declined to comment.
The semi-official Tasnim news agency, which is believed to be close to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, said Daei’s wife was banned from traveling earlier this month because of her support for the protests.
His wife tried to circumvent the ban illegally, he said, without providing further details, adding that his final destination was the United States.
Daei scored more international goals than anyone else before he quit playing and started managing his country instead.
Ronaldo broke Daei’s record last year and remains the world leader with 118 international goals for Portugal.
Daei remains in second place with 109, followed by Argentina’s Lionel Messi with 98.
He is one of many Iranian public figures to have supported recent protests against Islamic theocracy.
Nationwide protests erupted following the September death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for wearing “inappropriate attire” according to Iran’s interpretation of the Islamic dress code.
Amir Nasr-Azadani, 26, footballer, risk the death penalty for participating in national protests.
Authorities have blamed recent unrest on foreign adversaries such as the United States and Israel.
The paramilitary Revolutionary Guards said on Sunday that they had arrested seven people involved in the protests with a ‘direct link’ to Britain.