On their modern state-run propaganda fuelled website, PressTV a huge banner proclaims, 'Iran fights Corona,' however, BBC Arabic has investigated how one Iranian airline - Mahan Airlines, a private company with links to the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has contributed to the spread of Covid-19 across the Middle East and other countries in the world, in violation of many state bans.
BBC Arabic analyzed flight tracking data and spoke to sources within Mahan Air to explain how this company has, for hundreds of times, been challenging government bans between late January to the end of March, by operating flights to and from Iran, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, and Syria. All of these countries must have given Mahan Air permission to land, and have done so in defiance of the airline ban. Iran suspended all flights to and from China on January 31.
After that, several countries prevented flights from Iran in February and March, after they became the epicentre of the Coronavirus epidemic in the Middle East but flights continued around the world, including Europe.
Mahan Airlines has been sanctioned by the US because it was secretly transporting weapons and prominent figures for the Revolutionary Guard to Irans operations in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq - countries that also have strong ties with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
By using flight data and talking to sources in Lebanon and Iraq, BBC Arabic was able to confirm that the first cases of Covid-19 in these two countries were for travellers on Mahan flights. On February 19, an Iranian student on Mahan Flight W55062 travelled from the Iranian capital, Tehran, to the city of Najaf in Iraq. It was registered as the first official case of Covid-19 infection on February 24 in the country. On February 20, a forty-one-year-old Lebanese woman returned to the Lebanese capital, Beirut, after visiting the city of Qom, on Mahan flight No. W5112. The next day, it was recorded as the first confirmed case of HIV in Lebanon. Despite these two incidents that have outraged both countries, Mahan Airlines continued its flights.
The BBC obtained evidence that the crew members were silenced despite growing concern about the role Mahan was playing in spreading the virus. In late February, well-informed sources within Mahan stated that symptoms of the virus had started to appear in more than 50 of its crew members. The crew members turned to social media to complain that they were not given special equipment or protective clothing. On February 27, airline workers spoke for the first time. In an article published by the "East Calendar" newspaper, Mahan Air workers expressed concern that they would not be allowed unilateral isolation after their return from China and that they were forced to continue working.
On April 18, 1,300 Mahan Airlines workers signed an open letter accusing the airline of mismanaging the crisis. The message, published in Avia News, also mentioned that workers ’claims for personal protective equipment recommended by the International Air Transport Association were repeatedly neglected and that they were blamed for transmitting the virus to their loved ones and to the country. The BBC has obtained a copy of a confidentiality commitment agreement that has been distributed to Mahan Aviation employees, threatening them with a criminal trial if they speak out their concerns. The Mahan Airlines, and the countries that allowed the company's planes to land on its soil - in violation of the ban imposed by those countries themselves - have rejected the BBC's request for comment.