Iran regime criticized for coronavirus response as Shiite pilgrim ‘shrine licking’ videos emerge

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Several videos have been released in the past week of worshippers licking and kissing shrines at holy sites in the Iranian cities of Qom and Mashhad. (Screenshot/Twitter)
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Another video shows a young boy licking and kissing the door of a shrine while an older man films and encourages the child. (Screenshot/Twitter)
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A medic treats a patient infected with coronavirus at a hospital in Tehran, Iran. (AP)
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Updated 03 March 2020

Iran regime criticized for coronavirus response as Shiite pilgrim ‘shrine licking’ videos emerge

  • Several videos have been released in the past week of worshippers licking and kissing shrines
  • Iran's government refuses to close holy sites amid coronavirus fears

LONDON: The Iranian regime has been accused of endangering the lives of its people by keeping holy sites open amid the country’s coronavirus outbreak after footage of Shiite pilgrims licking and kissing shrines emerged on social media.

Iran has reported more than 1,500 coronavirus cases to date, the highest number in the Middle East, and the official death toll of 66 is the largest outside of China, where the virus emerged in December.

Several videos have been released in the past week of worshippers licking and kissing shrines at holy sites in the Iranian cities of Qom and Mashhad.

The shrines attract millions of pilgrims every year and have remained open despite growing coronavirus concerns in Iran, with thousands touching and kissing them every day.

Iranian journalist Masih Alinejed shared the videos and tweeted that the regime is “endangering the lives of Iranians and the world” by keeping the holy sites open.

 

 

The New York Times reported a teacher from Qom as saying: “The smell of disinfectants has become my nightmare, the city smells like a cemetery, a morgue.”

While Saudi Arabia recently suspended access to Makkah and to the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah for Umrah pilgrims, religious leaders and the regime in Iran refuse to close or restrict access to its holy sites.

FASTFACT

A plane carrying UN medical experts and aid touched down on Monday in Iran on a mission to help it tackle the world’s second-deadliest outbreak of coronavirus.

The chief of the World Health Organization’s emergencies program, Mike Ryan, said Iran will need help to deal sufficiently with the virus, and health workers in the country have expressed concern that the death toll is much higher than the official figures, the UK’s Metro newspaper reported.

Some doctors and nurses said hospitals in Tehran, Qom and Rasht were overloaded. “Hospitals are full of infected people. We hear about hundreds of deaths,” said a doctor in Tehran who asked to remain anonymous. “We need more hospitals. The death toll will rise.”

President Hassan Rouhani has dismissed the claims and insisted that all necessary precautions are being taken to prevent the spread of the virus.

Cleric Mohammad Saeedi, a representative in Qom of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, had previously urged pilgrims to visit the city’s Fatima Masumeh shrine.

“We consider this holy shrine to be a place of healing,” Saeedi said. “That means people should come here to heal from spiritual and physical diseases.”

Despite the outbreak, some worshippers have heeded his advice and remained defiant. “Stop scaring the people this much with coronavirus. Stop toying with people’s beliefs. Coronavirus is nothing in the Shiite shrines,” said a man filming himself at the Fatima Masumeh shrine.

“I’m going to lick here to take in all the coronavirus,” said a man in another video, before proceeding to lick the shrine.

A video from the city of Mashhad, where the Imam Reza shrine is located, showed a man licking the shrine and saying: “I’ve come to lick the Imam Reza shrine so that I contract this disease and allow others to visit the shrine with peace of mind.”

Another video shows a young boy licking and kissing the door of a shrine while an older man films and encourages the child.

The virus has now infected more than 89,000 people, killed more than 3,000 and spread to more than 60 countries, the latest figures on Monday revealed.


At least 13 people drown in migrant shipwreck off Libya

Updated 47 min 32 sec ago

At least 13 people drown in migrant shipwreck off Libya

  • The boat had set off from the town of Zliten, east of the Libyan capital of Tripoli
  • The Libyan Coast Guard said that it had ordered the rescue, and that search teams were scouring the area

CAIRO: Over a dozen migrants trying to reach Europe drowned in the Mediterranean Sea when their small dinghy capsized off the coast of Libya, the United Nations reported Friday, the latest shipwreck to underscore the deadly risks facing those who flee the war-afflicted North African country.
Libyan fishermen spotted the sinking boat late Thursday, said the International Organization for Migration, and managed to pull 22 people from the water, including those from Egypt, Bangladesh, Syria, Somalia and Ghana.
But at least 13 of the other passengers were missing and presumed drowned. Three dead bodies were found floating in the water, including one Syrian man and woman. The boat had set off from the town of Zliten, east of the Libyan capital of Tripoli, late on Wednesday.
The Libyan Coast Guard said that it had ordered the rescue, and that search teams were scouring the area for more victims.
“So many boats are leaving these days, but autumn is a very difficult season,” said Commodore Masoud Abdal Samad. “When it gets windy, it’s deadly. It changes in an instant.”
Following the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants hoping to get to Europe from Africa and the Middle East. Smugglers often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber boats that stall and founder along the perilous Central Mediterranean route. At least 20,000 people have died in those waters since 2014, according to the UN
Those who survived Friday’s disaster were taken to the Tripoli port, where they received medical care for their burns, a common consequence of leaked engine fuel mixing with saltwater, said Safa Msehli, an IOM spokeswoman.
Libyan authorities shepherded the survivors to the Zliten detention center, run by the Tripoli-based government’s Interior Ministry. Migrants rescued at sea and returned to Libya routinely land in detention centers notorious for torture, extortion and abuse. Amnesty International revealed in a report Thursday that thousands of migrants have been forcibly disappeared from unofficial militia-run detention centers.
The shipwreck, the second to be recorded by the UN in as many weeks, “signals the need now more than ever for state-led search and rescue capacity to be redeployed and the need to support NGO vessels operating in a vacuum,” said Msehli.
Since 2017, European countries, particularly Italy, have delegated most search-and-rescue responsibility to the Libyan Coast Guard, which intercepts migrant boats before they can reach European waters. Activists have lamented that European authorities are increasingly blocking the work of nongovernmental rescue organizations that patrol the Mediterranean and seek to disembark at European ports.