Iran condemned over concealing coronavirus figures as 24 arrested over ‘rumors’

Workers disinfect subway trains against coronavirus in Tehran, Iran, in the early morning of Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 27 February 2020

Iran condemned over concealing coronavirus figures as 24 arrested over ‘rumors’

  • Iranian cyber police on Wednesday announced the arrests of 24 people accused of online rumor-mongering about the spread of a coronavirus outbreak
  • Schools, universities and cultural centers have been closed, sporting events canceled and teams of sanitary workers deployed to disinfect buses, trains and public spaces

TEHRAN: Iran “seems to be concealing information about the (coronavirus) epidemic,” Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Wednesday said.
It condemned what it termed “Iran’s persecution of media outlets and journalists publishing independent information.”
Reza Moini, head of RSF’s Iran desk, said: “Respect for the public’s right to full, independent, diverse and quality news reporting... is the best way to protect the population and combat rumors. Withholding information can kill.”
President Hassan Rouhani, for his part, accused Iran’s arch foe the US of trying to use propaganda about the virus to instil “fear” against his country.
The Americans “themselves are struggling with coronavirus,” Rouhani said in a weekly cabinet meeting.
He added that “16,000 people have died of influenza there but they don’t talk about their own (dead).”
Rouhani’s remarks came a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of concealing the full extent of the outbreak, saying “Tehran may have suppressed vital details.”
The virus has also infected Iranian officials.

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Deputy health minister Harirchi had coughed and repeatedly wiped sweat from his brow at a joint news conference Monday with government spokesman Ali Rabiei, who is now himself awaiting the results of a coronavirus test.
Harirchi stirred controversy at the time by denying a lawmaker’s claim that 50 people had died from the virus in Qom, the epicenter of Iran’s outbreak.
The latest health ministry figures show the virus has spread across the country.
There were 15 new cases in Qom, nine in Gilan in the north, four in the capital Tehran and three in Fars in southern Iran, it said.
Meanwhile, Iranian cyber police on Wednesday announced the arrests of 24 people accused of online rumor-mongering about the spread of a coronavirus outbreak that has claimed 19 lives in the country.
The Islamic republic is scrambling to contain COVID-19 a week after announcing the first two deaths in Qom, a center for Islamic studies that draws pilgrims and scholars from abroad.
Schools, universities and cultural centers have been closed, sporting events canceled and teams of sanitary workers deployed to disinfect buses, trains and public spaces.
International health experts have expressed concern about Iran’s handling of the outbreak — the deadliest for any country other than China.
Such worries mounted on Tuesday when the head of the taskforce combatting the virus, Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi, admitted he himself had been infected.
But health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the situation was “improving,” even as he announced four more deaths and 44 new infections, including in six previously unaffected provinces.
The head of a newly established cyber police unit announced the arrest of 24 people accused of online rumor-mongering about the spread of the virus.

They were handed over to the judiciary, while 118 other Internet users were briefly detained and received warnings, Vahid Majid said, cited by semi-official news agency ISNA.
The arrests were carried out after the establishment of a special unit to “combat rumor-mongers regarding the ‘spread of coronavirus in the country’,” he was quoted as saying.
“The police are monitoring all the news published in the country’s cyberspace.”
Majid said the unit would take action over news, pictures or videos that “contain rumors or fake news meant to disturb the public and increase concern in society.”
The ministry added that Markazi, Kermanshah, Ardebil, Mazandaran and Semnan provinces each had one new case.
Newly hit regions included southwestern Khuzestan, which reported three infections.
The others were Lorestan in the west, Semnan in northern central Iran and Kohgiluyeh and Boyerahmad, as well as in the southern provinces of Hormozgan and Sistan and Baluchistan, which all had two cases each.
The health ministry’s spokesman, Jahanpour, appeared optimistic about the situation in the worst-hit province of Qom, south of Tehran.
“Every 24 hours, at least 10 percent of those hospitalized or suspect cases are discharged with good general health,” the official said.
But in Gilan, “things are slightly concerning,” he added, as it has had the second highest number of new cases, including people who had made trips to other provinces.
The health minister has repeatedly called on Iranians to refrain from traveling to other provinces, especially those infected like Gilan.
Iran is yet to quarantine any of the infected cities, including Qom, with authorities dismissing the method as outdated and ineffective.


Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

Updated 26 November 2020

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

  • Erdogan defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts
  • Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq: analyst

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the country has a “Kurdish issue,” even as he doubled down on his anti-Kurdish stance and accused a politician of being a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Erdogan was addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Nov. 25 when he made the remarks.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an insurgency against the state in 1984, and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US. Erdogan accuses the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the PKK, which it denies.

Erdogan told AKP members that Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP’s former co-chair who challenged him in the 2015 presidential elections, was a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Demirtas has been behind bars since Nov. 4, 2016, despite court orders calling for his release and faces hundreds of years in prison over charges related to the outlawed PKK.

The president defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts in the country's Kurdish-majority southeast region since local elections in March 2019.

He also said the AKP would design and implement democratization reforms with its nationalistic coalition partner, which is known for its anti-Kurdish credentials.  

His words are likely to disrupt the peace efforts that Turkey has been making with its Kurdish community for years, although they have been baby steps. They could also hint at a tougher policy shift against Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

According to Oxford University Middle East analyst Samuel Ramani, Erdogan’s comments should be read as a reaction to Tuesday’s resignation of top presidential aide Bulent Arinc, who urged for Demirtas to be released and insisted that the Kurds were repressed within Turkey.

“This gained widespread coverage in the Kurdish media, including in Iraqi Kurdistan's outlet Rudaw which has international viewership,” he told Arab News. “Erdogan wanted to stop speculation on this issue.”

Ramani said that Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

“It is also an oblique warning to US President-elect Joe Biden not to try to interfere in Turkish politics by raising the treatment of Kurds within Turkey.”

But Erdogan’s comments would matter little in the long run, he added.

“Much more will depend on whether Turkey mounts another Operation Peace Spring-style offensive in northern Syria, which is a growing possibility. If that occurs during the Trump to Biden transition period, the incoming Biden administration could be more critical of Turkey and convert its rhetoric on solidarity with the Kurds into action.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been a key partner for the US in its fight against Daesh. During a campaign speech in Oct. 2019, Biden criticized the US decision to withdraw from Syria as a “complete failure” that would leave Syrian Kurds open to aggression from Turkey.

“It’s more insidious than the betrayal of our brave Kurdish partners, it’s more dangerous than taking the boot off the neck of ISIS,” Biden said at the time.

UK-based analyst Bill Park said that Erdogan was increasingly influenced by his coalition partners, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“He might also believe that both the PKK and the HDP have been so weakened that he doesn't have to take them into consideration,” he told Arab News. “The Western world will not respond dramatically to this announcement but they are tired of Erdogan. There is little hope that Turkey's relations with the US or the EU can be much improved. The Syrian Kurdish PYD militia are seeking an accommodation with Damascus, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the largest party in Iraqi Kurdistan, is indifferent to the fate of Turkey's Kurds and has problems of its own.”

The HDP, meanwhile, is skeptical about Erdogan’s reform pledges and sees them as “politicking.”

“This reform narrative is not sincere,” said HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas, according to a Reuters news agency report. “This is a party which has been in power for 18 years and which has until now totally trampled on the law. It has one aim: To win back the support which has been lost.”

Turkey’s next election is scheduled for 2023, unless there is a snap election in a year.