The now-viral videos of the two men began circulating over the weekend as Iran continues to work to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. Officially known as COVID-19, it has killed at least 77 in the Middle Eastern country.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, put the Islamic Republic’s armed forces on alert Tuesday to assist health officials in combating the outbreak. Iran has seen at least 2,336 cases confirmed cases — the most outside of mainland China.
Iranian media reported Tuesday that 23 members of parliament now had the virus, as did the head of the country’s emergency services. On Monday, officials confirmed that an adviser to Khamenei died from the disease.
“Whatever helps public health and prevents the spread of the disease is good and what helps to spread it is sin,” Khamenei said, while photographed wearing disposable gloves ahead of Iran’s upcoming arbor day.
In one of the videos – already viewed more than 1 million times – a man is seen at the Masumeh shrine in Qom, saying, “I’m not scared of coronavirus,” before licking and kissing the gates. In another video, this one at a shrine in Mashhad, a man is filmed saying he is there to lick the shrine, “so the disease can go inside my body and others can visit with no anxiety.”
More videos began appearing on social media of men licking and kissing shrines.
Two men were arrested and now face between two months and two years in prison and up to 74 lashes as punishment, MP Nasan Nowrozi said, according to the BBC. It was not immediately clear which two men were arrested.
Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad, who shared the videos on Twitter, told the BBC that "arresting these two people is not enough as the religious centers are still open in Qom and other cities where people are suffering from coronavirus."
Shiite shrines in Iran attract tens of millions of visitors annually, with many people spending hours praying near them, or kissing and touching them.
Since the outbreak of the virus in Iran, the government has requested the closure of major shrines in cities like Qom, Mashhad and Shiraz, but the country’s powerful clerics have rejected or ignored the notices.
However, some have taken measures to protect visitors, including disinfecting holy shrines. There have been no outright closures.
Some religious clerics believe the shrines, including the one Masumeh shrine in Qom, have divine powers that can cure diseases.
Last week, Saudi Arabia announced it would temporarily block foreigners from traveling to Mecca and the Kaaba, the cube-shaped structure at the center of the annual hajj pilgrimage, out of coronavirus concerns.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.