Tehran shut down a newspaper on Monday after it published remarks that questioned state-published coronavirus data, the Associated Press reported.
A former Iranian public health official had told the paper, Jahane Sanat, that Iran's death toll and case load could be 20 times the reported numbers. Jahane Sanat's editor in chief, Mohammad Reza Sadi, told Iranian state media that authorities closed down his newspaper after the remarks were published.
Iran has struggled to keep the pandemic under control and its economy afloat in recent months amid a wave of protests over government mismanagement, including an understaffed coronavirus response and a failure to pay government workers.
The country has reported 330,000 cases of the virus and 18,616 deaths. But the actual numbers may be much higher, given Tehran's well-documented efforts to suppress information about the disease. Leaked government records put the true death toll at around 42,000, and several Iranian officials—including the country's vice president—contracted the coronavirus.
"While governments throughout the world have struggled to address the health crisis, the clerical regime in Iran made a bad situation worse by initially concealing the virus from its population," wrote Foundation for Defense of Democracies CEO Mark Dubowitz and senior Iran scholar Saeed Ghasseminejad. "In the Middle East, the Islamic Republic of Iran quickly became the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis."