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Iran Clamps Down On Reporting, Criticism About Coronavirus Epidemic

Cabinet members wear a protective mask and gloves as means of protection against the cornonavirus COVID-19, during a cabinet meeting in the capital Tehran, March 11, 202

Arresting people for disseminating information about the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus in Iran has gained momentum in the past two days.

The admin of a news website, Entekhab, Mostafa Faqihi (Faghihi) is among the detainees, Iran Times telegram Channel reported on Friday, March 13.

Earlier on March 10, Faqihi had tweeted that nearly 2,000 have died of Covid-19 across Iran. He had also demanded the Islamic Republic to disclose the real coronavirus death toll to the people.

The government says around 500 have died, while many citizens and journalists insist both the extent of infections and deaths are much higher than official figures.

The hardliner Tasnim news agency close to the Revolutionary Guard reported March 14 that 150 “were identified” by the Guard’s intelligence for “disseminating fake news” and “rumors” about the epidemic on social media they have been held responsible for their actions.

Meanwhile, an outspoken city councilor in Shiraz, southern Iran, Mehdi Hajati, was re-arrested on Thursday, March 12.

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) cited Mr. Hajati's associates as saying that Branch 10 of the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz had ordered the city councilor's detention.

Although the reason behind Hajati's arrest is still unknown, his close associates have maintained on social media that he is detained for criticizing the approach of state-run entities toward the deadly virus.

In the meantime, the Police Chief in the western province of Kermanshah, IRGC officer Ali Akbar Javidan, says 43 internet sites have been blocked across the region for disseminating information about coronavirus.

"The judiciary has also summoned and referred sixteen managers and admins of the sites to the courts," Javidan disclosed, and accused the blocked websites of spreading fake news under the "enemies' directives."

The Islamic Republic Prosecutor-General, mid-ranking cleric Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, had threatened the admins and social media activists of "severe consequences" if they cross the redline, and publish unwarranted comments on fighting coronavirus in Iran.