Iran’s government blocked the departure of a prominent anti-regime former soccer player on Monday after their plan stopped en route to Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
“The regime has a fixation on celebrities and their families,” Lisa Daftari, a Middle East expert and editor-in-chief of the Foreign Desk, told Fox News Digital. “They are targeting them in the most severe ways in order to make an example of them.”
“What’s extraordinary about the will of the Iranian people is that they have not been deterred by these symbolic attacks,” she added. “On the contrary, as the weeks go by, we are seeing more high profile celebrities, athletes, musicians and influencers risking their lives by supporting the Iranian people publicly.”
Ali Daei, a former Iranian player who spent some of his career in Germany and most recently coached teams across Iran, said his wife and daughter were traveling from Tehran, Iran to Dubai when their plane made an unplanned stop on Kish Island in the Persian Gulf, where authorities questioned them. The authorities released his daughter, but the flight would not let her board again.
Daei is one of several celebrities in the country to speak out against the government following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini and the resulting 102 days of continued protests calling for change. Other Iranian soccer players, including Voria Ghafouri and Amir Nasr-Azadani, have spoken out against the government and faced charges for opposing the regime.
Officials sentenced Nasr-Azadani to death for an alleged connection to the murder of a police colonel and two volunteer militia members, according to Iran Wire.
Iranian fans at the World Cup clashed against each other, with fans divided between pro- and anti-government factions. Scuffles erupted following the U.S.-Iran match, with protesters holding up portraits of outspoken former soccer player Ali Karimi, an icon of the protest movement, and a journalist from Iranian state-run media who was trying to film them.
The semi-official Tasnim news agency, with ties to the Revolutionary Guard, said that Daei’s wife was under a travel ban because of her support for the protests and had illegally tried to bypass the ban, claiming she ultimately planned to travel to the U.S.
Daei insisted that his family planned to return from Dubai after a week. He had his own passport confiscated after urging the government on social media to “solve the problems of the Iranian people rather than using repression, violence and arrests.” He later said it was returned to him.
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 they view as corrupt and out of touch. Iranian authorities have blamed the unrest on foreign adversaries like the U.S. and Israel.
Iran has arrested a number of Iranians with dual nationality in recent years and convicted them of state security offenses in closed-door trials. Rights groups say such detainees are denied due process and accuse Iran of using them as bargaining chips with the West, something Iranian officials deny.
Fox News Digital’s Ryan Morik and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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