After videos that purport to show people licking holy shrines in the Iranian city of Qom amid a COVID-19 outbreak, an Iranian member of Parliament said they could face prison time or floggings.
The videos, which were posted to social media, showed men licking and kissing a shrine in Qom and one in Mashhad. The Qom man says in the video that “I’m not scared of coronavirus.” The other man says that “the disease can go inside my body and others can visit it with no anxiety.”
Other videos showed men licking and kissing the shrines.
But now, two men were arrested and face between two months and two years in prison and as many as 74 lashes, said Parliament member Nasan Nowrozi.
“Those doing such unconventional acts are publishing fake and superstitious news against the officials in the country,” he said, according to the BBC. “Such people would face two months to two years [in] jail and up to 74 lashes as punishment.”
Iran is in the midst of an outbreak that has left dozens of people dead and thousands infected. It’s prompted officials to implement drastic measures, including the temporary release of 54,000 prisoners, the BBC also reported.
Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad, who also posted the videos on Twitter, told the broadcaster that “arresting these two people is not enough as the religious centers are still open in Qom and other cities where people are suffering from coronavirus.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday again denied a U.S. offer to help combat the spread of COVID-19. “Our people are well aware that you are lying; you are not telling the truth,” he said, according to the state-run Tasnim News Agency.
Experts have suggested that Iran is covering up the country’s true COVID-19’s situation. “Once it came in the full force, there also, they had a lot of compulsion to restrict the information related to that because they still had two days for the election,” Asif Shuja from the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute, told CNBC earlier this week. “That is why one can safely assume that the information that is coming out of Iran is not entirely to be trusted,” he added.
While the city of Qom is the epicentre of #CoronaVirus in Iran, authorities refuse to close down religious shrines there.
These pro-regime people are licking the shrines & encouraging people to visit them.
Iran’s authorities are endangering lives of Iranians & the world pic.twitter.com/s9o6zYhzNQ
— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) February 29, 2020
Officials in China, where the virus first emerged, have also been accused of covering up the true extent of the virus. Citizen journalists and human rights activists have said the Chinese Community Party has censored information and engaged in other draconian measures during the outbreak, while also questioning the regime’s official narrative on how it initially spread.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, Saudi officials announced they would temporarily bar foreigners from traveling to Mecca and the Kaaba, the black, cube-shaped structure at the center of the Hajj pilgrimage.