Iran shuts down newspaper over report on COVID-19 toll

Iran shuts down newspaper which reported the country's tolls from coronavirus could be 20 times higher than official figures.

Elad Benari ,

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Iran shut down a newspaper on Monday after it quoted a former member of the national coronavirus taskforce as saying the country's tolls from the epidemic could be 20 times higher than official figures, Reuters reported, citing the state news agency IRNA.

"The Jahan-e Sanat newspaper was shut down today for publishing an interview on Sunday," the newspaper's editor-in-chief, Mohammadreza Saadi, told IRNA.

On Sunday, the newspaper published an interview with Mohammadreza Mahboubfar, in which he said: "The figures announced by the officials on coronavirus cases and deaths account for only 5% of the country's real tolls".

Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari rejected Mahboubfar's remarks and said he was not a member of the National Coronavirus Combat Taskforce, according to IRNA.

It was not clear if she meant he had never been a member of the body, as claimed by the newspaper.

Mahboubfar, an epidemiologist, told the newspaper that authorities had detected the coronavirus in January, while Iran announced its first infections and two deaths from the virus on February 19.

Iran is one of the worst-hit countries from COVID-19 in the Middle East, with its official tolls being 18,616 dead and 328,844 infected cases.

At least 31 members of the Iranian parliament contracted the virus, including its speaker Ali Larijani, who tested positive in April.

However, some experts and lawmakers have doubted the accuracy of Iran's official coronavirus tolls. A report by the Iranian parliament’s research center in April suggested that the coronavirus tolls might be almost twice as many as those announced by the health ministry.

A senior Iranian health official acknowledged in June that nearly one in five Iranians may have been infected with the novel coronavirus since the country's outbreak started in February.

The shutting down of the newspaper which doubted Iran’s official coronavirus figures is not surprising, as Iran is notorious for the limitations it imposes on freedom of expression.

Last year, for example, Iranian authorities shut down a reformist magazine that had urged negotiations with the United States.

In addition to shutting down media outlets that are deemed to be undermining the regime, the country also blocks access to numerous websites, including Facebook and Twitter.



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