Iran leader defends virus conspiracy theories

Country has over 20,600 confirmed cases and 1,556 deaths.
Sunday 22/03/2020
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a televised speech, in Tehran, Iran March 22, 2020. (Reuters)
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a televised speech, in Tehran, Iran March 22, 2020. (Reuters)

While his country's leaderhip faces mounting public anger over its policies at home and abroad, including its management of the coronavirus outbreak, Iran's supreme leader is again emphasising unfounded conspiracy theories that the virus was US-made to target Iranians.

80-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei chose to traffic in the same conspiracy theory Sunday to deflect blame for the pandemic and to reject Washington's offer of medical help.

“Possibly your (offered) medicine is a way to spread the virus more,” Khamenei said. “Or if you send therapists and doctors, maybe he wants to see the effect of the poison, since it is said that part of the virus is built for Iran."

Khamenei made the comments in a speech in Tehran broadcast live across Iran marking Nowruz, the Persian New Year. He had called off his usual speech at Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad over the virus outbreak.

His comments come as Iran has over 20,600 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus amid 1,556 reported deaths.

Iran is one of the hardest-hit countries in the world by the new virus. Across the Mideast, Iran represents eight of 10 cases of the virus and those leaving the Islamic Republic have carried the virus to other countries.

Reassigning blame could be helpful to Iran's government, which faces widespread publuc distrust after denying for days it shot down a Ukrainian jetliner, killing 176 people. 

Dire economic problems as well has seen mass demonstrations in recent years that saw hundreds reportedly killed.

There is no scientific proof offered anywhere in the world to support Khamenei's comments, even if his claims come after Chinese government spokesman Lijian Zhao tweeted earlier this month that it “might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe(s) us an explanation!”

Lijian likewise offered no evidence to support his claims, which saw the US State Department summon China's ambassador to complain.

On the opposite side of conspiracy theorists, a US senator from Arkansas has trafficked in the unfounded allegation that the virus was a man-made Chinese bioweapon.

The overwhelming majority of scientists rejects conspiracy theories. An article published last week in the scientific journal Nature Medicine said there is “strong evidence” the virus “is not the product of purposeful manipulation.”

“It is improbable that (the virus) emerged through laboratory manipulation of a related SARS-CoV-like coronavirus,” the article's authors found.

Iranian hard-liners have supported conspiracy theories in the past when it suited their interests. Following the Sept. 11 attacks, some publicly doubted al-Qaida's role and state TV promoting the unfounded conspiracy theory that the Americans blew up the building themselves.

Former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad similarly raised doubt about the Sept. 11 attack, calling it a “big lie," while also describing the Holocaust as a “myth.”