Iraq on Friday suspended the work of the Reuters news agency for three months, following a report by the agency the previous day that said the Iraqi government was under-reporting confirmed cases of the new coronavirus.
The news agency was also fined 25 million Iraqi dinars, or about $20,800, according to a statement posted on the official Communication and Media Commission website.
The suspension comes after Reuters on Thursday published a story citing multiple sources who said the government was vastly misreporting cases of coronavirus in the country, saying the true number of those infected was in the thousands.
The Health Ministry said Friday there were 820 confirmed cases and 54 deaths in the country. The Reuters report said the true number ranged from 3,000 to 9,000.
Reuters said it has not received any notification from Iraqi authorities regarding their license and were “seeking clarification on the matter.”
“We stand by our story on April 2 which was based on multiple, well placed medical and political sources and also fully represented the positions of the Iraqi Health Ministry,” the Reuters statement said.
The Facebook page of the Iraqi commission said an attempt was made to contact the Reuters office manager in Baghdad following the report but that no one answered the call.
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The incident is the second time journalists have come under fire for challenging the official count of coronavirus cases in the Middle East. In late March, Egypt expelled a correspondent for The Guardian over a report citing a study that suggested cases in Egypt were higher than authorities had reported.
The British paper’s correspondent, Ruth Michaelson, left the country after Western diplomats informed her that Egyptian security services wanted her to leave “immediately,” the daily said at the time.