Expressing grave concern over the mis-management and mis-reporting of the coronavirus epidemic in Iran, the International Committee ‘In Search of Justice’ (ISJ), has written to António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary General, calling for the UN to deal warily with the Iranian regime’s demand for aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The ISJ is a non-profit NGO registered in Brussels, whose members include many elected parliamentarians, former officials and other dignitaries, with an interest to promote human rights, freedom, democracy, peace and stability in Iran. They have expressed deep concern that the Iranian regime continue to claim that they have the epidemic under control, citing figures of around 16,000 infected and 3,000 dead. According to the ISJ, based on accurate information that they receive daily from people inside Iran, they believe the actual figure to be nearer 500,000 infected and 20,000 dead, five times higher than what is being reported.
The ISJ say that the theocratic regime’s clumsy attempts at cover-up and deception are aimed at hiding the fact that the regime failed to take any effective preventive measures to deal with the spread of the virus, including the quarantine of cities where the infection was raging. Nor did they make any preparations for preventing the virus from spreading. The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei even ridiculed the disease and said the coronavirus was an excuse created by Iran’s enemies to discourage people from voting! He has farcically even blamed the Americans for what he calls “a biological attack.”
In their letter to the UN Secretary General the ISJ say they have reliable information that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), who control over 70% of the county’s economy, have channelled almost all the available funds and medical resources, including protective masks and clothing, to the regime’s officials and to its own military personnel. Even doctors and nurses who are at the forefront of fighting the disease in hospitals, have no proper medical supplies and protective suits. The ISJ say they understand that so far over 100 doctors and frontline medical staff have died from the disease. They have even received reports that specialist equipment supplied by the World Health Organisation has been sold on the black market by the IRGC.
The ISJ state that while the lies and deception over the coronavirus pandemic continue, the people of Iran are dying. In response to the growing crisis, the French international charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) shipped an inflatable hospital to be deployed in Isfahan, along with nine doctors and specialists. But an official from the Iranian Health Ministry announced: “Iran does not need hospitals established by foreigners” and deported MSF from the country. A spokesman for the government later claimed that MSF’s attempts to set up a hospital in Isfahan was simply “a cover for non-humanitarian activities.”
The ISJ say they are also deeply concerned about the rapid spread of the virus throughout Iran’s burgeoning prison population. The prisons have become a death trap and many political prisoners, particularly thousands of young protesters who were jailed following the nationwide protests last November, are now at perilous risk. This is why there have been a spate of prison riots across Iran in recent days. Two such riots took place in Sepidar and Shiban prisons in Ahwaz City, Southern Iran, which the IRGC raided on 20 March killing at least 7 prisoners and injuring others. According to eyewitnesses, after dark, some ambulances entered the prison and removed the injured prisoners to unknown locations. The ISJ has urged the United Nations to take immediate action to compel the regime to disclose the whereabouts and conditions of these wounded prisoners and also to send a fact-finding commission to these two prisons.
The ISJ point out that the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated in a media briefing on 2 April 2020, “many countries are asking people to stay at home and shutting down population movement which can help to limit transmission of the virus, but can have unintended consequences for the poorest and most vulnerable people.” He rightly called on the governments “to put in place social welfare measures to ensure vulnerable people have food and other life essentials during this crisis.” He also gave an example that in India Prime Minister Modi has announced a $24 billion package including free food rations for 800 million disadvantaged people, cash transfers to 200 million poor women and free cooking gas for 80 million households for the next three months. However, although over 75% of the Iranian citizens are living under the poverty line, no such decision has been made in Iran.
The ISJ point out that regarding the availability of funds, according to the regime’s senior officials, there are five institutions which control 60 percent of the national wealth. These include: The Headquarters to Execute the Imam’s Order (Setad Ejraie Farman Imam), the IRGC’s Khatam al-Anbiya Garrison, the Astan-e Quds Razavi, the Martyrs Foundation and the Mostaz’afan Foundation. All of them are under the direct total of Ali Khamenei. Setad’s assets and capital alone are estimated to be in excess of $100 billion. The National Development Fund is under the total control of Khamenei. While there are several estimates on its holdings, it reportedly has billions of dollars in assets. These institutions possess massive assets and facilities. Even a small portion of their assets could pay for the costs of confronting the coronavirus, including paying the salaries of workers, employees and nurses.
The ISJ letter concludes that the painful fact is that contrary to what the Iranian government tells the world, its mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis is not related to US sanctions, which exclude medical and humanitarian aid. Right now, Iran has billions of dollars, but the Supreme leader refuses to spend it on protecting the people against Covid-19 leaving the helpless population abandoned amidst the infighting that continues apace between the regime’s rivals.
The ISJ tells the UN Secretary General in their letter that they are aware of the fact that the Iranian regime has asked the IMF for $5 billion emergency aid to help them combat the Covid-19 epidemic. They are also aware that Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has already promised $25 million aid to the Iranian regime and pledged EU support for their bid for IMF funding. Given the behaviour of the Iranian government to date, the ISJ say they would sincerely urge that any financial aid is provided only under strict International observation to ensure that it will directly reach the Iranian hospitals, physicians and health workers as well as the ordinary people who badly need it.
The ISJ has sent a similar letter to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO and to Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy. The letter was signed by Alejo Vidal-Quadras, President ISJ and former Vice-president of the European Parliament from (1999-2014); also by Giulio Terzi, Chair ISJ Committee on the Protection of Human Rights & Justice in Iran and former Minister of Foreign Affairs Italy (2011-2013); and also Struan Stevenson, Chair ISJ Committee on the Protection of Political Freedoms in Iran and former President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14).
Struan Stevenson is the Coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change (CiC). He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). He is an international lecturer on the Middle East and president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA).