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Iran Guards Censure Health Official For Criticizing China's Coronavirus Data

Photo posted on Twitter account of Chinese Ambassador in Tehran Showing Ambassador Chang Hua (L) with Hamid Arabnejad (C), CEO of Revolutionary Guard controlled Mahan Air. January 2, 2020

An official publication of Iran's Revolutionary Guards on Tuesday called on authorities to take measures to placate China for the "irresponsible statements" of a health official who has questioned China's honesty about the dimensions of its coronavirus epidemic.

Kianush Jahanpur, Spokesman of Iran's Health Ministry on April 5 called China's reports of the coronavirus epidemic "a bitter joke" for creating the impression the virus caused an illness "just like influenza with even fewer deaths". In his criticism he added, “If in China they say an epidemic was controlled in two months, one should really think about it”.

Dr. Jahanpur was joined by several other health officials in questioning China's honesty in its reports but drew the ire of the government of China and its ambassador in Tehran. The ambassador chastised the Iranian official on Twitter, which angered many Iranians who in turn took to his Twitter page to protest his "rude" responses to Dr. Jahanpur.

The incident has led to a diplomatic and political uproar in Iran. The Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his hardliner supporters consider China and Russia as Iran's closest allies in its war against the West and the United States.

The commentary in the latest issue of Sobh-e Sadeq which is published by the Political Mentors Department of the IRGC, said Dr. Jahanpur has offended "the government of China" with his "non-expert remarks" and has put relations with China in jeopardy.

Rather than criticizing the Chinese ambassador's patronizing tone in his tweets, the Revolutionary Guard commentary took the side of the Chinese ambassador.

The commentary also called Dr. Jahanpur's statements about China's coronavirus data "irresponsible and against [Iran's] national security" as well as a "reiteration of what the Western and American media have repeatedly alleged".

"The reiteration of such allegations [against China] by an official of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the current circumstances practically sends a significant negative message to one our country's supporters," the commentary said.

The Revolutionary Guard "political mentor" also called on the ministers of health and foreign affairs "to counteract the consequences of these irrelevant statements" and investigate the possible "behind-the-scenes dimensions of such remarks" to ensure "Iran's national interests and to prevent any harm to relations between the Iranian and Chinese".

In a tweet prompted by the Health Ministry Spokesman's allegations against China, the Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi on April 5 had praised the government and people of China for "leading the way in suppressing coronavirus and generously aiding countries across the world. "The Chinese bravery, dedication and professionalism in COVID-19 containment deserve acknowledgement," he had written and added: "Iran has always been thankful to China in these trying times".

Some lawmakers on Wednesday indirectly criticized the Revolutionary Guard's stance on the matter by chastizing the Foreign Ministry. On Wednesday the outspoken reformist lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeqi (Sadeghi) in a tweet ​announced that he and 16 other lawmakers have used their powers as members of parliaments to officially admonish Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif for his spokesperson's "undignified response". "Admonishment" by lawmakers is usually the first step towards impeachment of ministers by the parliament.

Calling the Chinese ambassador's response to the Iranian health official "against diplomatic protocols", Sadeqi said the Iranian Foreign Ministry should have summoned the Chinese ambassador and issued a warning to him.

The lawmakers' letter to Zarif reiterated the allegations that the data released by China misled other countries in their approach to the coronavirus epidemic and says the Foreign Ministry's stance is against the "Neither East, Nor West" motto of the Islamic Republic in its foreign policy. The motto is inscribed above the Iranian Foreign Ministry's entrance.

"You are advised to have more supervision on the stances expressed by the Foreign Ministry in order to prevent the Iranian people's national dignity from being undermined any further," the letter told Zarif.

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    Maryam Sinaiee

    Maryam Sinaiee is a British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National, who contributes to Radio Farda.