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Iran Detains Flight Carrying Family of Soccer Icon Ali Daei

Iranian authorities ordered a Dubai-bound flight to land on Monday, barring family members of an outspoken Iranian football icon from leaving the country and accusing them of taking part in anti-government protests.

The wife and a daughter of Ali Daei were removed from the Mahan Air flight after it was ordered to land on Iran’s Kish Island, some 200 kilometers (124 miles) off Dubai in the Persian Gulf, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. The flight originated in Tehran.

In response to protests against the country’s clerical leadership, the Islamic Republic is widening a crackdown on dissent that began in mid-September over the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. She was arrested by Iran’s so-called morality police for supposedly breaching strict Islamic dress codes.

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Daei, who retired from football in 2007, has publicly voiced his support for protests. He is one of the country’s most-celebrated players and has emerged as an increasingly influential figure in Iran.

IRNA said Daei and his family engaged in “backing anti-revolutionary groups and rioters, and calling for strikes,” adding that Daei’s wife and daughter were free to return to Tehran. Separately, the semi-official Tasnim news agency said Daei’s wife has been barred from leaving the country but had “nullified the ban” through illegal channels and had managed to board the flight.

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Authorities shut down a jewelry shop and a restaurant owned by Daei, following social-media posts that both properties would close in solidarity during three days of protests and strikes in early December, according to state media. He previously boycotted the World Cup and stayed at home to show solidarity with the demonstrators.

Iran this month hanged two men in connection with protests, the country’s first known executions from among thousands arrested in the unrest. Human rights groups say more than 400 people have been killed in the government’s crackdown on protests while dozens are in danger of being executed.

Iran’s supreme court on Dec. 24 upheld a ruling to execute Mohammad Ghobadlou, a 22-year-old man accused of allegedly running over and killing a police officer in the town of Parand near Tehran, Tasnim reported.