IranWire can exclusively report that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has threatened Iranian medical specialists with reprisals if any of them were to disclose information regarding the spread of coronavirus in Iran.
A group of specialist doctors met with Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi on Saturday, February 22, during which they reported on the latest findings regarding the spread of coronavirus in Tehran and other Iranian cities. But soon after the meeting, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) approached the doctors through the Health Ministry’s security office and warned the doctors not to leak any information from their discussions. The doctors were told that, if any details did leak, they would be held responsible and would suffer the consequences.
Despite these threats, the information received by IranWire shows the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak, especially in Tehran. The doctors who were present at the meeting offered Harirchi their assessment of the official news and figures and told him that the figures published by the government do not match the reality of the situation.
As one of these doctors – whose name is withheld because of the threats from the Revolutionary Guards – told IranWire: “The statistics published by the government have nothing to do with the reality of the situation and the number of infections is much higher than what the media reports. If things go on like this and if the Islamic Republic does not cooperate with the World Health Organization, we must expect a great disaster in the coming months and, in Tehran alone, tens of thousands will be infected by coronavirus. This scientific estimate does not even include other epicenters like Qom. If we cannot come up with a framework to cooperate with the World Health Organization, our situation will become many times worse than in China.”
The doctor pointed out that, currently, a number of clinics in Tehran have been quarantined and the government’s attempts to keep the reality of the situation a secret is a “crime” in the legal sense of the word.
“Refusing to divulge real information to Iranians and to the international community is officially a crime because it endangers the lives of people not only in Iran but in other countries as well.”
Global free expression campaigning organization ARTICLE 19 has spoken out against Iran’s attempts to block its people from accessing and sharing the vital information they need to stay safe. “The government appears more concerned with controlling rather than sharing information,” the group said in a statement on February 27. “In the midst of much-needed government intervention to distribute resources, quarantines and awareness about the virus, Tehran’s police force has created a 'coronavirus defense base' to monitor ‘misinformation and the spread of fear’ about the virus, which has already led to three arrests in Tehran on February 25.”
ARTICLE 19 also urged Iranian authorities to ensure its people had full access to the internet so they could share information provided by experts, including Iranian hospital staff who have been frustrated by the government’s failure to inform the public about how to protect itself. “In the face of a serious health crisis, information can save lives. Transparency and access to information from the Iranian government, a freely accessible internet, and the support of the international community has never been more important for Iran.”
In many countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Canada, Iraq, Turkey and Lebanon, the first cases of coronavirus infections were brought in by Iranian citizens or by travelers who had visited Iran. This has led many countries to close their borders with Iran, in the air and on the ground.
According to this doctor, the outbreak of coronavirus in Iran occurred just after the outbreak China. “But the problem started when we did not recognize that this virus is the same as China’s coronavirus,” the doctor said. “We made a mistake when we identified it as a variant of influenza viruses. … But, after it became known that it had been a mistake, [officials] continued as before and did not disclose the facts.”
The Government Is Clueless
The doctor said Iran’s government has no plans for containing the crisis. Officials have “no other choice except secrecy,” he added. "This will disgrace the Islamic Republic, if it becomes known that its government is clueless. But this can lead to a humanitarian disaster.”
According to this doctor, after the meeting with the health minister was over, the Revolutionary Guards contacted each doctor who had been at the meeting. “They told us that we will be held responsible for even the smallest leak. But I could not keep silent anymore,” he said.
On Monday, February 24, two days after the meeting and after the doctors were threatened, General Hossein Salami, the top commander of the Revolutionary Guards, called Health Minister Saeed Namaki and announced that the Guards were ready to provide any and all assistance in fighting coronavirus and preventing its spread.
On February 25, in a televised speech, President Hassan Rouhani asked people to trust only statements by the Health Ministry for information about coronavirus.
The Iranian Cyber Police has meanwhile reported that it has arrested a number of “rumor-mongers” about coronavirus since Friday, February 21. General Hossein Rahimi, commander of Tehran’s Cyber Police, announced the arrests.
“Persons who want to create trouble for the people by spreading rumors and lying in cyberspace must know that the police surveils their behavior and will act against them decisively,” he said.
Earlier on February 21, Gholamreza Jalali, commander of Iran’s Civil Defense Organization, accused foreign media of “creating panic” by publishing inaccurate or misleading figures about coronavirus infections. He emphasized that coronavirus must not be turned into a “political crisis”. Jalali is the same official who, after floods had inundated many parts of Iran in early 2019, made strange statements about extreme weather, accusing Israel of “cloud stealing”. He claimed that “joint committees of Turkey and Israel” had stolen moisture and snow from the clouds over Iran.
With the Islamic Republic and the Revolutionary Guards turning the coronavirus outbreak into a security issue, by treating infection figures as state secrets, by arresting people for “rumor0mongering” and, now by threatening doctors whose duty is to tell the truth about infectious diseases, it seems the experts may be proved right about the likelihood of a humanitarian disaster. If the Islamic Republic continues in this way we must expect a much bigger disaster that what is happening in China — not only for Iranians but for the world.
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