An Iranian parliament spokesman on Wednesday announced that anyone found to be “spreading rumors” about the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak will be sentenced to one-to-three years in prison and flogging, Iran state news agency IRNA reported.
“Spreading fake news over coronavirus outbreak will people panic. It also will pave the ground for the country’s shutdown,” said Hassan Norouzi, spokesman for the parliament’s legal and judicial committee, in comments translated by the Tehran Times.
Norouzi said the prison sentence and flogging is based on “on the Islamic penal code,” and 24 people have been arrested already on suspicion of “spreading rumors” about the illness.
Iran has reported 139 cases of coronavirus infections throughout the country, with an epicenter in the city of Qom, a destination for Shi’ite Muslim religious pilgrims. Nineteen Iranians have died from the illness so far, and the country has the highest number of cases in the Middle East. While officials have recommended that citizens not visit Qom, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced on Wednesday that the government does not plan to quarantine entire cities, only infected individuals.
“Coronavirus must not be turned into a weapon for our enemies to halt work and production in our country,” Rouhani said.
On Tuesday Iranian deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi announced that he had contracted coronavirus. In a video taken at his home, Harirchi attempted to reassure viewers, saying “I will certainly defeat corona.”
Harirchi was filmed a day earlier on state television to announce that the country’s outbreak was under control, visibly sweating and wiping his face with a handkerchief.