Iran ‘seems to be concealing’ virus information

Workers disinfect subway trains against coronavirus in Tehran on Feb 26. (AP pic)

PARIS: Iran “seems to be concealing” information on the coronavirus, which has officially killed 19 people in the country, media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders said on Wednesday, accusing it of blocking independent reporting of the outbreak.

The Islamic republic “seems to be concealing information about the epidemic in line with China’s example”, the NGO known by its French acronym RSF said in a statement.

“The authorities insist they have the situation under control but they have refused to publish exact figures for deaths and infections and have obstructed journalists trying to cover the story,” it said.

RSF said freelance journalist Mohammad Mosaed was interrogated by Revolutionary Guard intelligence officials on Feb 23 over messages he had posted on social media concerning the epidemic.

He was released after questioning, but his phone and computer were seized, and his Telegram messenger and Twitter accounts closed.

According to Iranian cyberpolice, 24 people have been arrested and charged with spreading fake news about the epidemic.

“RSF condemns Iran’s persecution of media outlets and journalists publishing independent information,” said the NGO’s statement.

President Hassan Rouhani, meanwhile, accused Iran’s arch-foe the United States of trying to use propaganda about the virus to instil “fear” against the country.

The Americans “themselves are struggling with coronavirus”, Rouhani said in a weekly cabinet meeting, a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of concealing the full extent of the outbreak.

The country’s deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi has said he has contracted the virus.

RSF accused Tehran of “concealing information about several crises and catastrophes” over the past year, including flooding, mass protests and now the Covid-19 epidemic, warning that: “Withholding information can kill.”