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In Iran, the COVID-19 Crisis Amplifies Due to Regime’s Policies


On Sunday, the Iranian regime’s Health Ministry announced that 366 people had died from Covid-19 during a 24-hour period – the highest one-day death toll in 80 days. This brought the overall official death toll very near to 91,000. But according to the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the official statistics are manufactured as part of an effort to downplay the true severity of the crisis.  

Through analysis of local reporting throughout the country, as well as interviews with health professionals and other eyewitnesses, the MEK has determined that over 345,000 fatalities have been caused by Covid-19 in Iran since the start of the pandemic. 

In recent days the regime officials have also acknowledged the depth of the Covid-19 crisis in Iran.  One such official was quoted by the Arman-e Meli daily newspaper as saying that the country is facing growing death tolls and worsening medicine shortages, partly as a result of authorities having “refused to strongly quarantine the country.” He added: “The country is facing a dead-end and officials have lost control. In the coming weeks, we will be witnessing the start of the sixth peak.” 

In fact, the regime officials actively exacerbated the situation from a very early stage, and the current six-figure Covid-19 death toll is the result of trends that were set in motion before any effective treatment for the novel coronavirus had been developed. 

Documents obtained by the MEK indicate that Iran’s National Emergency Organization was aware of community spread within the country even before the start of 2020. Yet it was not until mid-February of that year that the authorities officially acknowledged a domestic threat from the virus. In the interim, the regime organized a number of public gatherings and demonstrations including celebrations of the regime’s 40-year anniversary and a funeral for the Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani who was killed by a US drone strike in January. 

In most of these cases, participation was mandated for certain government employees and strongly incentivized for the general public, turning them into officially sanctioned super-spreader events at a time when few Iranians were aware of the looming public health crisis. This naturally gave the authorities additional motivation to conceal the consequences of those events, recognizing that widespread unrest might result from widespread awareness of the regime’s culpability. 

But this is not to say that the regime sought to diminish that culpability afterward. Instead, in March 2020, while much of the world was coming aware of the seriousness of the emerging global pandemic, the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei welcomed the start of the Iranian calendar year by declaring that the county should prioritize the goal of “boosting production” throughout the economy. This set the stage for his regime to deny much-needed financial relief to the people, in the interest of encouraging them to continue working to alleviate their already life-threatening poverty. 

Khamenei wields personal control over hundreds of billions of dollars in assets belonging to so-called religious foundations, and that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps controls well over half of Iran’s gross domestic product through a network of front companies and affiliates in a wide range of industries. Thus, the regime had ample resources with which to support the public through the sorts of lockdowns that Health Ministry officials have urged, to no avail. Instead, Khamenei promoted “boosting production” as a means of inflating his own wealth and that of other Iranian elites, at the expense of the people’s health, as well as their basic economic security. 

This conduct has continued and has even worsened over the past year and a half. At times, Khamenei’s policies even seemed to be deliberately prolonging the public health crisis – a crisis that he referred to as a “blessing” in at least one speech to his subordinates. Khamenei has come to think of the pandemic as a tool for keeping a lid on unrest. And it is easy to see how he might have come to that conclusion, given that there was relatively little large-scale unrest after January 2020, even though protests in that month served as a follow-up to two nationwide uprisings, one in January 2018 and the other in November 2019. 

However, around the start of the current Iranian calendar year, the opposition leader Mrs. Maryam Rajavi pointed to clashes between security forces and citizens in Sistan and Baluchistan Province and declared that “the fire of the uprisings has risen from the ashes of the coronavirus.” That message has been repeated on a number of subsequent occasions, as public protests have grown in various regions, over various topics. Tehran’s mismanaged coronavirus response has surely contributed to that trend, and the latest calls for regime change lend credence to the notion that Khamenei has gone too far in his effort to stem the unrest and has helped to fuel it instead. 


Any number of developments might have been a tipping point, but Khamenei’s indifference to public health was particularly blatant early this year when he banned the import of American and British-made vaccines and then placed the responsibility for distribution in the hands of the Revolutionary Guards, thereby allowing the hardline paramilitary to profit by selling doses on the black market for exorbitant prices. The import ban resulted in the cancellation of planned efforts to donate vaccines to at least 100,000 vulnerable Iranians, and it is all but certain that some of their would-be recipients have since died as a result of the regime’s malicious negligence. 

This trend will certainly continue until either the Covid-19 pandemic is cured throughout the world or something dramatic changes in Tehran. If the regime comes under enough international pressure, it might be compelled to lift the import ban, release available funds, and promote the sorts of common-sense interventions that its own Health Ministry is calling for.  

Yet, as the regime delays in procuring vaccines and as the Covid-19 crisis amplifies, regime officials and state media warn about people’s reactions. 

“If at the beginning of this pandemic people accepted that their loved ones had died due to this disease and outside the will and function of [the regime], now they will not accept such a thing. People attribute the deaths of their loved ones to incorrect vaccination policies. Policies that emphasized domestic production and forgot about imports and even opposed it,” said Abbas Abdi, one of the regime’s former officials, according to the state-run Etemad daily on August 1.