News Digest: Week of May 11

May 11

Health: Iran’s Ministry of Health reported 109,286 cases of COVID-19, including 6,685 deaths. Police had shut down 1,300 websites and arrested 320 people for spreading rumors about the coronavirus, according to state news agency IRNA.

Health/Aviation: IranAir, the country's flagship airline, announced that it would partially resume international flights on May 14. Airline officials said that they had gained approval from authorities in the Netherlands to resume flights from Tehran to Amsterdam. Flights would be restricted to diplomats, aid workers and those holding permanent residency in the Netherlands.

Military: An Iranian warship mistakenly fired a missile at another Iranian naval vessel, killing at least 19 sailors and wounding 15 others. The accident took place during a military training exercise near the port of Jask in the Gulf of Oman. The Jamaran, one of Iran’s most advanced domestically built frigates, intended to hit a training target released by the Konarak, a naval support ship. But the Konarak strayed too close and was hit. “Naval relief and rescue teams reached the location shortly after the incident, retrieving the injured and the martyrs from the vessel and transferring them to medical centers,” Iran’s Navy said in a statement.

Justice/Diplomacy: Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claimed that Sirous Asgari, an Iranian scientist detained in the United States, had been freed and could return home immediately if he tested negative for COVID-19. But Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary for homeland security, doubted that Iran wanted Asgari back. In a tweet, he challenged Tehran to send a plane to retrieve its nationals held in the United States.


Economy: President Hassan Rouhani dismissed Minister of Industry, Mines and Business Reza Rahmani after car prices increased by more than 60 percent during the past few months. Rouhani appointed Hossein Modarres Khiabani as the new minister. Khiabani had served in the ministry in various roles for more than 17 years.


May 12

Health: Iran recorded 110,767 cases and 6,733 deaths from the novel coronavirus. Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced that many regions had entered the “containment phase” in the Iran's fight against COVID-19. But he urged citizens to continue to respect health protocols. “Our biggest strategic mistake in the current period is that we’d imagine that the coronavirus is over,” Namaki said.

Health: The Ministry of Health temporarily reopened all mosques.  Mohammad Qomi, the director of the Islamic Development Organization, said that mosques would remain open for three days commemorating specific nights during the holy month of Ramadan.  Worshippers were required to wear masks and gloves and could only stay for 30 minutes. Mosques were prohibited from serving food and drinks and were required to provide all worshippers with hand sanitizer.  

Justice/Diplomacy: Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi accused U.S. officials of “talking rubbish” about their willingness to let Iranian detainees return home. “Since Sep2018, @JZarif has put 'universal prisoners swap' on the table, urged US to act responsibly about the Iranian HOSTAGES in US & elsewhere. Your regime has reacted callously & risked their lives. World is watching your action, not your word. Let our citizens go!” Mousavi tweeted.


May 13

Health: Iran’s Ministry of Health reported 112,725 cases, including 6,783 deaths from COVID-19. The Ministry’s spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said that 629,534 Iranians had been tested for COVID-19.  

Sanctions: The United States threatened to trigger “snapback” sanctions on Iran if the U.N. Security Council did not agree to extend an arms embargo on Tehran due to expire in October. “If American diplomacy is frustrated by a veto, however, the U.S. retains the right to renew the arms embargo by other means,” U.S. special envoy for Iran Brian Hook wrote in The Wall Street Journal. Hook added that the United States would ensure the continuation of the arms embargo “one way or another.”


May 14

Health: Iran recorded 114,533 cases and 6,854 of coronavirus. Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour announced that 90,539 individuals had recovered from the virus. “We are in situation similar to previous days [in most provinces] save for Khuzestan, which is still in a critical condition, and it seems that North Khorasan may be critical as well,” Jahanpour said.

Military: The U.S. military offered “sincere condolences to the Iranian people” for the deaths of the 19 sailors from friendly fire during a naval exercise. “While we are troubled that this mishap occurred in such close proximity to a high-traffic international shipping lane and at a time when most of the region’s focus is on the fight against COVID-19, the unnecessary loss of life is regrettable,” said Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command.

Human Rights/Justice: Sam Brownback, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, thanked Iran for freeing religious prisoners, including several Baha’is. "We saw countries – Iran, Burma, Cuba, Russia – release religious prisoners, prisoners of conscience, and others.  So thank you for doing that.  I think some people’s lives were possibly saved by this,” Brownback said. “Although Iran did release a number of Baha’i from prison, and I was very pleased that they were willing and did do that.” The Baha’i are Iran’s largest religious minority. But they are not recognized by the constitution, are not protected under the law, and are hindered from practicing their faith.


May 15

Health: Iran reported 116,635 cases and 6,902 deaths from COVID-19. It was country’s largest increase in new cases since April 6.  

Economy: The government allotted an additional $995 million to the Ministry of Health to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The country had experienced an uptick in cases after restrictions were lifted in late April and early May.