A spokesman for Iran’s armed forces says 3,600 people have been arrested in the country for spreading rumors regarding the coronavirus pandemic.
Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi made the comments on a live news program on state-controlled television on April 28, claiming that the Islamic republic’s “enemies” had “elements” inside the country who follow their orders.
Sherkachi suggested that the unnamed enemies were trying to hurt the country due to its “very good” performance against the coronavirus outbreak that has killed nearly 6,000 Iranians and infected over 93,500, according to official figures released on April 29.
The real figures are suspected of being significantly higher, with even the Research Center of Iran’s parliament estimating earlier this month that the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic in the country was likely to be double the official numbers, due to insufficient testing and reporting.
Tehran has been criticized for its slow initial response to the pandemic and failure to quarantine the city of Qom, where the outbreak erupted and spread to the rest of the country.
Shekarchi’s comments come weeks after the U.S. State Department accused Iran of arresting individuals who have attempted to report the real extent of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country by contacting U.S. officials.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Radio Farda on March 28, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Iran had not been transparent about its coronavirus cases and death toll, adding that when the Iranian people asked the government to tell the truth, when they demand transparency from the government, the regime does everything to stop them.
The French media watchdog Reporters Without Borders on April 15 condemned the Iranian establishment for the persecution of journalists and citizen-journalists who have published information about the coronavirus epidemic that lacked official approval.