19th April 2020
Shoppers in Iran last week – smart distancing?
The Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights (CODIR) has accused the Iranian regime of gross irresponsibility and negligence in its approach to the COVID-19 pandemic in Iran. While there were widespread indications that the virus had reached Iran in January, the regime refused to acknowledge its presence or take any measures to prevent its spread.
CODIR cites as evidence of the Iranian regime’s negligence the fact that the regime wanted mass participation in the celebrations marking the 41st anniversary of the 1979 Revolution on 11th February, as well as encouraging a high turnout for the parliamentary elections, that took place on the 20th February.
The regime’s policy towards the COVID-19 pandemic has proven costly. The regime only announced the first two coronavirus deaths on the afternoon of polling day when the election was already well underway. By then the virus had taken hold throughout the country.
As of 17th April, according to the regime’s official figures, there were 80,868 cases of the virus resulting in 5,031 deaths. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has expressed doubts about these figures, given the size of the population in Iran (85 million) and the lateness with which any controls were introduced.
The recent announcement by the regime that Iranians should return to work will only exacerbate this situation and is likely to result in a more rapid spread of the pandemic. In response to criticism of the policy, President Rouhani has stated that he would rather see 2 million die than 30 million hungry out on the streets.
Rouhani has urged people to use private cars after there were crowded buses on the first day of the relaxed rules last weekend, while the metro has called for “smart distancing”, although what this means in practice is not clear.
Iran’s medical system organisation expressed concern, saying smart distancing “was being introduced without considering the scientific and executive justifications for the project, or the threat that the past efforts of all people, officials and medical staff will be wasted”.
Surveys cited by the government showed that a third of people are experiencing financial problems. Ali Rabiei, Rouhani’s spokesman, has said that the Covid-19 crisis has affected 3.3 million official employees through dismissal, suspension or reduction of wages, with a further 4 million self-employed also feeling its impact.
While the country’s under resourced and over stretched health sector struggles to deal with the pandemic, the sanctions imposed upon the regime by the United States have not only stayed in place but have been expanded.
The US is refusing to spare Iranian people from the negative impact of the sanctions, which affect the availability and provision of food and medicine while destroying the economic fabric of the country. The United Nations and leading European powers including Britain, France and Germany have officially called on the US to remove the sanctions in order for a humanitarian relief effort to take place to help the beleaguered country’s people.
The US however continues to block a $5bn emergency loan application to the IMF by Iran to help tackle the COVID-19 crisis.
Against this background the fate of political prisoners is also cause for particular concern. Prisoners are kept in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions and are subject to routine mistreatment. Since early-February there have been continual calls for the release of political prisoners or for them to at least be granted temporary leave.
Just before the Iranian New Year on 20th March, the regime grudgingly assented to the release of thousands of prisoners. However, those political prisoners with a sentence of longer than 5 years were excluded from the release.
The regime is refusing to support the call for the provision of a safe environment for emergency work to be carried out and is not providing guarantees for workplaces that decide to stop production owing to the pandemic. This means that workers are coerced into going to their workplaces, despite the dangers, rather than being left jobless, destitute and hungry.
The combination of the ineptitude of the Iranian regime and the vengeful action of the US, in intensifying sanctions, is putting the lives of many ordinary Iranians at risk. Both must be opposed; both must be stopped.