top of page

Source: BBC News

May 6, 2023

Iran protests: Football star Ali Karimi under travel ban, leaked papers show

By Parham Ghobadi

Iran imposed a travel ban on football star Ali Karimi, his wife and her family during the recent anti-government protests, leaked documents seen by the BBC show.

Mr Karimi was among the first celebrities who vehemently criticised the deadly crackdown on the protests which erupted in September.

The footballer, known as the Maradona of Asia, lived in the UAE at the time.

The protests were sparked by the death in custody of a Kurdish Iranian woman.

Mahsa Amini, 22, died after allegedly being beaten by morality police who arrested her for what they said was her failure to wear her headscarf properly.

The protests spread nationwide, but have been violently suppressed. Human rights groups say security forces have killed at least 530 protesters - including around 70 children - since the protests began.

One of the documents seen by BBC Persian says Mr Karimi "was invited [to Iran] by our agent nine times and has received serious warnings".

In a letter marked "top secret" and dated 24 October 2022, Iran's Revolutionary Guard's intelligence unit informed Tehran's prosecutor that "Karimi's recent activities were instigated by his wife Sahar Davari and her family".

In the late 1980s Iran had executed Ms Davari's father, Gholamali Davari, on charges of being a member of the Communist Tudeh Party. He was an officer in Iran's air force at the time.

The document claims Karimi's in-laws, on his behalf, were aiming to sell his mansion in Lavasan, an affluent suburb of capital Tehran, for $20m (18m euros; £16m) in order to emigrate permanently.

In the document the Revolutionary Guard asked for a travel ban on Karimi, Davari, her mother, step-father, brother and sister. This would prevent them from leaving the country, including Mr Karimi and his wife if either of them returned.

The leaked letter was given to BBC Persian by a hacking group called Edalat-e Ali (Ali's Justice).

Mr Karimi told BBC Persian in a phone interview that his older brother was also prosecuted several times and banned from leaving the country.

"My friend was interrogated three or four times in the notorious Evin prison," he said.

He said Iran keeps people he follows on Instagram under close surveillance.

"One of them needed both a deposit bail and a guarantor to be able to leave Iran," he said.

In early October, Iranian state media also claimed Mr Karimi had sold his mansion in Lavasan.

But Mr Karimi told BBC Persian that this was not true.

"Security forces raided the place and brutally beat up the janitor," he said, adding that the property had been empty ever since.

"My neighbours tell me lights are on some nights and plain-clothes agents are seen going in and out," he said.

Mr Karimi shared pictures of CCTV which Iranian authorities have installed near his property.

"Any car stops there for five minutes, security forces swarm the place," he said.

Mr Karimi and his family have since moved from the UAE to an undisclosed location.

bottom of page