News Digest: Week of May 18

May 18

Health: Iran’s Ministry of Health recorded 122,492 cases, including 7,057 deaths from COVID-19. It was the largest increase in new daily cases since April 5. But government spokesman Ali Rabiei reported that 280 cities and towns had been declared low-risk white zones. He said that Khuzestan, which had accounted for a quarter of the country's new daily cases, was the only region still in the high-risk red category. 

Health/Military: The Revolutionary Guards announced that the annual Quds (Jerusalem) Day parade, a march in support of the Palestinian cause, would be cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns. The Guards had initially changed the parade from a pedestrian march to a parade of vehicles.

Health/Diplomacy: Health Minister Namaki condemned  U.S. sanctions on Iran as "inhumane" during an address to the World Health Organization. “There is no doubt that unilateral sanctions constitute an obstacle and are an inhumane measure, which brings about suffering and pain [for people],” Namaki said. “The United States must be held to account for the severe sanctions that have put the lives of Iranian people in jeopardy.”

Economy: Iran said that the United States would face a “decisive response” if it targeted five Iranian oil tankers transporting gasoline to Venezuela. A senior Trump administration official had said that Washington was “weighing its options” on how to respond to the fuel shipment. “The U.S. itself will have to suffer the repercussions that arise out of any unthinking measure [that it could take] against the Iranian vessels,” ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said during a press briefing. “Free trade between independent countries is a legal act. What is illegal is robbery in the sea, which the U.S. is the leader of.”


May 19

Health: Iran reported 124,603 cases of COVID-19, including 7,119 deaths. Health Ministry spokesman Kianoosh Jahanpoor said that 97,173 individuals had recovered from the virus.

Health/Society: Iran reopened outdoor recreation centers and hiking trails.  But Minister of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism Ali Asghar Mounesan emphasized that camping and hiking in large crowds was still prohibited under the new guidelines. 

Sanctions: The U.S. Treasury sanctioned a China-based company for providing services to Mahan Air, an Iranian airline blacklisted in 2011 for supporting the elite Qods Force. Shanghai Saint Logistics Limited was the seventh company sanctioned for acting as a general sales agent for Mahan Air. “We will not hesitate to target those entities that continue to maintain commercial relationships with Mahan Air,” said Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.

Justice: Iran sentenced a couple to death for smuggling hard currency in the country and laundering more than $200 million. Iran’s Judiciary accused Vahid Behzadi and his wife Najva Lasheidai of hoarding more than 6,700 Saipa automobiles and disrupting the country’s domestic automobile market. Judiciary Spokesman Gholam Hossein Esmaeili announced that lawmakers Fereidoun Ahmadi and Mohammad Azizi were sentenced to five years in prison in connection with the case. Mehdi Jamali, a former CEO of Saipa, was sentenced to seven years in prison for his role in the hoarding scheme.


May 20

Health: Iran’s Ministry of Health reported 126,949 infections and 7,183 deaths from COVID-19. Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said that 98,808 Iranians had recovered from the virus. He added that 10 provinces did not report any new deaths.

Justice/Human Rights: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national detained in Iran on security charges, was granted an indefinite furlough, according to her family. She had been temporarily released from Tehran’s Evin Prison in mid-March amid fears over the spread of COVID-19. “Today is a step forward,” Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband said. “She’s now a ‘potential good news’ bargaining chip instead of a ‘possibly bad news’ bargaining chip.”

Sanctions: The United States sanctioned nine Iranian officials, including the interior minister, and three entities for human rights abuses. The new measures “send a message of support to the Iranian people that we will continue to support their demands for transparent and accountable governance and speak out for those who are being silenced by this regime,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The State Department imposed visa restrictions and the Treasury Department imposed financial sanctions.


May 21

Health: Iran recorded 129,341 cases and 7,249 deaths from COVID-19. The Ministry of Health  reported that around 10,000 health workers had been infected by COVID-19. In April, the Health Ministry said that more than 100 health workers had died from the virus. 

Economy: President Rouhani said that neither the coronavirus, nor U.S. sanctions could stop Iran's economic progress. "Coronavirus and problems like that cannot stop our production. Of course such problems have some impacts. Both the coronavirus and the US virus have impacts but none of them can stop us," Rouhani said. 

Health: President Rouhani announced that holy sites and religious shrines will reopen after Eid al Fitr, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, on March 24. 


May 22

Health: Iran reported 131,652 cases of COVID-19, including 7,300 deaths. Health Ministry spokesman Kianoosh Jahanpoor said that 102,276 Iranians had recovered from the virus.