DUBAI: Iran’s supreme leader suggested on Thursday that mass gatherings may be barred through Ramazan amid the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, Amnesty International said it believed at least 35 Iranian prisoners were killed by security forces amid rioting over the virus.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made the comments in a televised address as Iran prepares to restart its economic activity while suffering one of the world’s worst outbreaks.
He is also the highest-ranking official in the Muslim world to acknowledge the holy month of prayer and reflection will be disrupted by the virus and the Covid-19 illness it causes.
“We are going to be deprived of public gatherings of the month of Ramazan,” Khamenei said during a speech. “In the absence of these meetings, remember to heed your prayers and devotions in your lonesomeness.”
Ramazan is to begin in late April and last through most of May. Iranian public officials had not yet discussed plans for the holy month, however, Iranian mosques have been closed and Friday prayers cancelled across the country for fear of contagion.
Khamenei urged people to pray in their homes during the holy month. People typically pray communally, especially during Ramazan, which sees communities share large meals and greetings each night.
Iran has reported over 66,000 confirmed cases of the new virus, with over 4,100 deaths. However, experts have repeatedly questioned those numbers, especially as Iran initially downplayed the outbreak in February amid the 41st anniversary of its 1979 Islamic Revolution and a crucial parliamentary vote.
Egypt Ramazan restrictions
Khamenei’s comments come after Egypt’s Ministry of Religious Endowments called off all celebrations and late-evening prayer services for Ramazan, including mass charity iftars. Mosques and churches have already closed for prayers across Egypt.
The Egyptian government has insisted the virus is under control as infections increase in the country of 100 million.
A prominent heart surgery center in Egypt identified a cluster of coronavirus cases on Thursday, the second health facility in a week to become a source of infection.
The Magdi Yacoub Heart Foundation in the southern city of Aswan, established by a leading Egyptian-British transplant surgeon, said it had identified four cases, one patient and three security guards, and placed them into isolation. The hospital said it would monitor those showing symptoms and sterilize the wards, while continuing to treat urgent care patients.
Nearly 20 medics in Egypt’s main cancer hospital tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this month, raising fears of rapid transmission in health facilities across the Arab world’s most populous country. The death toll from the virus rose to 103 on Thursday, from among over 1,500 cases.
In its report, Amnesty said thousands of prisoners in at least eight prisons had rioted over their fears about potentially contracting the virus while incarcerated, and that it believes at least 35 inmates were killed by security forces. There have been sporadic reports in Iranian media about the riots, with only one fatality announced.
Amnesty cited “independent sources including prisoners families” as reporting the fatalities. Security forces used live ammunition and tear gas to suppress protests, the group said. Footage earlier verified by The Associated Press showed thick black smoke rising over one prison in southwestern Iran.
Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2020