Iran pledges to share drowning report findings

Afghan medical technicians screen patients about possible symptoms of the coronavirus at the Afghan-Japan Communicable Disease Hospital in Kabul. (File/AP)
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Updated 28 May 2020

Iran pledges to share drowning report findings

  • Iran’s deputy foreign minister expresses ‘deep sorrow’ over border incident

KABUL: Tehran has finally agreed to share the findings of a probe into the alleged drowning of 46 Afghan migrants by Iranian border guards earlier this month, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed on Wednesday.

Ministry spokesman Gran Hewad told Arab News that the move followed a meeting between Afghan Foreign Minister Haneef Atmar and Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Baharvand on Tuesday.

After their talks, Baharvand pledged to share the details of an Iranian investigation team’s report into the incident which has driven a wedge into the already-strained ties between the two neighbors.

“Mohsen expressed deep sorrow, strongly condemned it, pledged to investigate and share the results with Afghanistan,” Hewad said, adding that Atmar had also shared the results of Kabul’s own inquiry with the Iranian politician.

“The foreign minister passed on all the details of the investigation conducted by Afghan teams, such as accounts of survivors and villagers about the incident,” Hewad added, without giving any further details.

The latest development comes two weeks after Kabul shared the findings of its report with Tehran which had been rejected by the latter during a “tense interaction” between officials from two countries.

During Tuesday’s meeting, however, Atmar reiterated that Iran should conduct “legal proceedings against the culprits” and adopt measures to ensure that such incidents were not repeated in the future, Hewad said.

The incident relates to the alleged drowning of 46 migrants on May 1 after they were detained by Iran’s border security forces having illegally crossed into Iran with the help of a smuggler on the night of April 30, two survivors told Arab News a week later.

After being detained, they were beaten and eventually forced to jump into the Harirud River at gunpoint, the survivors claimed. The river, in the Herat province in Afghanistan, lies along the border with Iran.

The incident led to a diplomatic storm with each side accusing the other of lying until May 9, when Afghanistan decided to set up an investigative team to probe the claims.

“The migrants, aged between 16 and 25, wanted to travel to Iran to escape the (coronavirus disease pandemic) lockdown in Afghanistan and find work in Iran because Iran had relaxed restrictions there because of coronavirus while we saw an extension of the lockdown in Afghanistan,” Mohammed Qasim, an uncle of Abdul Bari who reportedly lost his life while crossing the river, told Arab News.

A majority of the victims came from the Herat province where a group of Afghans later gathered outside a UN compound last week calling on the world body to conduct an independent investigation into the incident.

Ahead of Kabul’s probe, Arab News had spoken to some of those who survived the ordeal and to the families of some who did not.

“They beat us and locked us in a room with 50 other people. They did not even let us use the toilet,” said Azizullah, a 21-year-old from the village of Khogyani in the Gulran district, who was attempting to cross the border with four companions to seek work in Iran.

As soon as they had crossed the border, they were arrested by patrolling guards, Azizullah claimed.

In recent years, Iran and Afghanistan have had an uneasy relationship, with Kabul accusing Tehran of using Afghan Shiite migrants to fight its proxy wars in the Middle East, as well as providing cash and arms to Taliban insurgents fighting the Afghan government and US-led troops in Afghanistan.

“Iran feels embarrassed by recent months’ events; its air forces shot down the Ukrainian passenger plane which killed scores of people. Initially, Iran denied it but later conceded it. Then its marine (one of its ships) mistakenly fired a rocket which killed over 15 of its sailors and now the drowning of Afghans,” Afghan analyst Taj Mohammad told Arab News.

“It may take responsibility if indeed Iran’s border forces were behind it, but both sides do not want to see a further deterioration of relations, especially when the US is leaving Afghanistan and we have a new power-sharing government in place in Kabul and Iran played its role behind it,” he added.

UK scientists warn too early to tell if new COVID-19 variant more deadly

Updated 45 min 9 sec ago

UK scientists warn too early to tell if new COVID-19 variant more deadly

  • PM Boris Johnson had previously said evidence showed higher mortality rate 
  • Top medics have said it is “too early” to say whether the variant carries with it a higher mortality rate

LONDON: The discovery of a new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) variant in the UK should not alter the response to the pandemic, scientists say, despite fears that it could prove more deadly.
Top medics have said it is “too early” to say whether the variant, thought to be up to 70 percent more transmissible, carries with it a higher mortality rate.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed there was “some evidence” the variant had “a higher degree of mortality” at a press conference on Friday, Jan. 22, with the UK’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, adding it could be up to 30 percent more deadly. 
That came after a briefing by the UK government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) said there was a “realistic possibility” of an increased risk of death.
Prof. Peter Horby, Nervtag’s chairman, said: “Scientists are looking at the possibility that there is increased severity ... and after a week of looking at the data we came to the conclusion that it was a realistic possibility.
“We need to be transparent about that. If we were not telling people about this we would be accused of covering it up.”
But infectious disease modeller Prof. Graham Medley, one of the authors of the Nervtag briefing, told the BBC: “The question about whether it is more dangerous in terms of mortality I think is still open.
He added: “In terms of making the situation worse it is not a game changer. It is a very bad thing that is slightly worse.”
Dr. Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling for the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said he was “quite surprised” Johnson had made the claim.
“I just worry that where we report things pre-emptively where the data are not really particularly strong,” he added.