Iran is on track toward a resurgence of coronavirus infection that will at least doubles the existing death toll. That’s even worse than it sounds. The Iranian regime reported that fewer than 6,000 people have died from COVID-19 so far. But reliable independent sources suggested that the actual death toll is more than six times that number.
The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI, Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK) announced on Wednesday, that the coronavirus has so far claimed the lives of 37,200 people in 306 cities across Iran.
Iran: Coronavirus Death Toll Exceeds 37,200 in 306 Cities
The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI / MEK) announced this afternoon, April 29, that the number of victims of the #Coronavirus in 306 cities in #Iran has exceeded 37,200. #COVID19https://t.co/RRawdFFGbR
— NCRI-FAC (@iran_policy) April 29, 2020
The mullahs’ regime has maintained a veil of secrecy over the outbreak since it began. This was made immediately evident with the late announcement of the first fatal domestic cases. Documents prepared by the National Emergency Organization and later obtained by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) indicate that the first COVID-19 infections were known to the Iranian regime before the end of January. Yet it was not until February 19 that regime’s officials even acknowledged an outbreak was active.
In all likelihood, the death toll was already substantially higher at that time. By the end of February, regime officials had begrudgingly raised the death toll from two to 12. But at the same time, at least one local official broke ranks with the regime by announcing that over 50 fatalities had already been recorded in the city of Qom alone.
It quickly became apparent that Qom, a southern Iranian “holy city,” was the epicenter of the outbreak in the country. And as instances of coronavirus infection continued to be recorded into March, it also became clear that the impact was reaching far beyond Iran’s borders.
Few restrictions on domestic travel were put into place, while shrines and tourist attractions remained open in Qom and other cities. Before the surrounding countries were fully aware of the extent of the Iranian outbreak, infected individuals had traveled to Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, and a host of other countries. Some early cases in Canada could be traced to Iran under mullahs’ rule, as well, underscoring the threat posed to the entire globe by an uncontrolled and underreported outbreak, even in a country that is relatively isolated from the international community.
After more than three months of active infection, Iran shows no sign of either bringing its outbreak under control or opening up to the world about its true extent. Persons who use social media or foreign news outlets to spread the word about their own experiences with COVID-19 are still subject to arrest for “rumor-mongering.” Several such arrests have been carried out, some of them targeting Iranian doctors and nurses who dare to describe an overwhelmed healthcare system in which individuals hospitals routinely lose dozens of patients per day.
These stories are wildly out-of-step with the official narratives being presented by the clerical regime. The narratives have become steadily more sophisticated, but no more accurate. The sophistication is necessary to justify steps that the regime is currently taking to reverse social distancing measures, even though those measures were put into place too late, were too short in duration, and were surprisingly weakly enforced, given the regime’s penchant for the violent repression of dissent.
Accurate reporting of the death toll and infection rate would naturally undermine the regime’s return-to-work orders or would at least expose the mullahs to even greater public outrage amidst the inevitable next wave of COVID-19 cases. Toward that end, the regime’s authorities have erroneously reported the causes of death for thousands of patients, sometimes passing off the coronavirus as influenza and sometimes attributing the death to proximate causes while ignoring the underlying infections. A recent report from the MEK detailed this phenomenon as well as the regime’s practice of hastily burying victims to forestall further investigation and its emerging habit of “clumsily mimicking the European countries” in order to report superficially plausible declines in the mortality rate.
Of course, these declines aren’t actually plausible when one considers the differences between the crises in Iran and in its Western countries. In the US and Europe, there is reliable transparency in line with the entrenched values of those governments and their people. In Iran, there is a tendency toward secrecy even under the best of conditions. And the conditions that enabled the spread of COVID-19 are downright catastrophic.
To the extent that Tehran acknowledges these differences, it would have the world believe that the problems stem from US sanctions. Indeed, even while they deny the scale of the outbreak and insist they have it well under control, the regime’s authorities and mullahs’ apologists outside of Iran continue to reach out to the United Nations and the European Union with claims that regime’s healthcare system is being held back by the sanctions. In reality, those measures have never targeted medicine other humanitarian goods. Neither have they deprived Tehran of access to the cash it needs to support its people, keep them isolated from one another, and flatten the curve.
Additional reports from the MEK and NCRI have outlined the financial resources that are currently available to powerful entities like Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The latter has been formally put in charge of the coronavirus response but has yet to dip into the massive holdings of Khatam al-Anbia, a conglomerate under the hardline paramilitary’s direct control.
Between this and a network of religious foundations directly controlled by Khamenei, the regime’s leadership has hundreds of billions of dollars at its disposal. Barely one billion has been made available to the public in the midst of this crisis, with no proof that it has been indeed used to help people, while the rest remains in reserve for future use in the regime’s malign activities. Redirecting this money to the coronavirus response would, of course, be a better means of controlling the public’s rage than the current, desperate bid to hide the death toll. But it would also leave the regime without an argument for the necessity of sanctions relief, and it would effectively expose the extent to which the regime has always prioritized its own ambitions over the welfare of people.
This isn’t to say that Iranians aren’t generally aware of that situation already. The sentiment has formed the core of countless protests, including two nationwide uprisings, one in January 2018 and one in November 2019. In both cases, participants chanted slogans that admonished the regime to “think of us” rather than wasting the national wealth on destructive interference in the affairs of Syria, Iraq, and other regional nations. These slogans quickly turned into “death to dictator” and unanimous demand for regime change.
Of course, that message is all the more imperative in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. And this is especially true when one considers that the crisis is far worse than the regime has admitted, and is poised to become even worse still unless that regime reverses course on its current return-to-work orders. Such a change of policy is extremely unlikely unless the international community puts serious pressure on the regime, in coordination with the Iranian activists pushing for comprehensive political change in their homeland.
The past three months of disinformation and self-serving behavior should make it clear to all parties that such comprehensive change necessary before the regime can be expected to properly address crises like the current outbreak. Continued mismanagement will no doubt lead to new anti-government uprisings in the long run. But immediate pressure on the regime could save tens of thousands of lives, both inside Iran and throughout the world.
As the NCRI’s president-elect, Mrs. Rajavi has said: “Today, not only the freedom of the people of Iran, but their very lives and health, and the country’s economy and existence depends on the overthrow of the clerical regime”
Today, not only the freedom of the people of #Iran, but their very lives and health, and the country’s economy and existence depends on the overthrow of the clerical regime. #FreeIran2020 #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/HSrdOGJ351
— Maryam Rajavi (@Maryam_Rajavi) April 18, 2020