The Iranian regime has shut down a newspaper in Iran after it published remarks by an expert who said the number of coronavirus cases and deaths could be 20 times higher than official statistics.
Jahane Sanat, which has published since 2004, mainly on business news, was shut down after it quoted epidemiologist Mohammad Reza Mahboobfar, its editor told state agency INRA.
Mahboobfar had claimed in a Sunday column that the virus was detected a month earlier than the Feb. 19 announcement by authorities, and the announcement was delayed until after parliamentary elections earlier in the month, as well as the celebration of the 1979 Iranian revolution.
“The figures announced by the officials on coronavirus cases and deaths account for only 5 percent of the country’s real tolls,” he said in a column.
“The administration resorted to secrecy for political and security reasons,” he said, accusing the regime of “engineered statistics.”
The country’s health ministry has reported nearly 330,000 cases and 18,616 deaths. If it were 20 times higher as Mahboobfar suggests, it would mean a death toll of more than 360,000 people.
A Health Ministry spokeswoman rejected the allegations and said Mahboobfar had no role in the government’s anti-coronavirus campaign: “The Health Ministry is not a political body and health of people is its main priority.”
The regime in Tehran has come under significant criticism for its handling of the virus, and Iranian resistance groups have longed claimed that the Iranian regime has delayed reporting of the virus and that the death toll is significantly higher.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an umbrella organization of Iranian resistance groups opposed to the regime, published documents in April that it says shows that Iran had multiple cases in late January.
The documents consist of mission reports from the government’s National Emergency Organization, and carrying the emblem of the country’s Health Ministry, that outline multiple suspected cases of the virus – all from the Chinese Embassy in Tehran. In those cases, the reports note that they showed symptoms of the coronavirus, and their colleagues had symptoms as well.
One of those documents, according to the NCRI’s translation, was a 37-year-old woman with signs of coughing and a cold. The document was dated Jan 28. The regime said that it didn’t have its first case until Feb. 19.
The NCRI contrasted that information with claims by Iranian officials in early February that there were no coronavirus cases in the country. They also claim the information was suppressed in order to ensure participation in the February elections – which resistance groups called on Iranians to boycott.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.