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Regime’s Attacks on Vulnerable Populations Add to Economic Impact of Coronavirus in Iran

Iran: Khorramabad, demolition of people's homes- April 15, 2020
Iran: Khorramabad, demolition of people’s homes- April 15, 2020

On Thursday, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) reported that authorities had attacked an impoverished community in Khorramabad Province, destroying homes that the residents had built, without required permits. This, at least, was the feared explanation given by the local mayor, in response to public outcry over the clash between government authorities and a vulnerable population. 

The regime’s mayor cited Iran’s ongoing coronavirus outbreak in his explanation, alleging that some persons had “tried to abuse the circumstances” by building unlicensed domiciles. “The municipality has only tried to impose the regulations and has not taken any action beyond the legal requirements,” he added. 

Despite these bogus claims, witnesses to the incident captured video of homes being bulldozed after riot police advanced on local residents who attempted to defend their homes by throwing stones. After being posted online, these videos helped to fuel domestic outrage, and were then disseminated to an international audience by NCRI activists. 

Whereas the Khorramabad mayor cited coronavirus as an element of the regime’s justification for the attack on this community, the Iranian Resistance pointed to the same circumstances when decrying the cruelty of the regime’s actions. Most, if not all of that community’s residents are now effectively homeless, at a time when social distancing measures have caused an estimated seven million Iranians to either lose their jobs or be placed on furlough. 

These newly unemployed citizens now join millions of others who have already been struggling for years to support themselves within a climate of chronic economic mismanagement and regime’s institutionalized corruption. According to the International Monetary Fund, Iran’s gross domestic product shrank by 5.4 percent in 2018, then by a further 7.6 percent in 2019. It is now on pace to contract by six percent or more in 2020, and this estimate may rise if the coronavirus pandemic severely damages the workforce or causes people to stay home beyond the end of formal social distancing measures. 

As a practical matter, however, many Iranian workers cannot afford to say home. Even in the midst of the pandemic, foregoing work could result in financial ruin or outright starvation and eventually an uprising and repeat of the nationwide Iran protests.  

This is while the Iranian regime’s implemented its nationwide shutdown much later than other countries of the region, despite suffering a much worse coronavirus outbreak. Furthermore, regime’s President Hassan Rouhani ordered a partial end to stay-at-home orders starting last Saturday, at which point two-thirds of government workers returned to their offices along with an unspecified collection of workers whose jobs were deemed to be in “low-risk” environments. 

The move to reopen the economy is rather a criminal decisionEven the regime itself  was still recording more than one hundred deaths per day until the day before the reopening began. The convenient overlap between this order and the decline to double-digit mortality estimates cast further doubt on the veracity of those estimates after they had already been called into question by Iranian dissidents and Western governments. 

According to Iran’s official figures, the death toll currently stands around 5,000. But the reports obtained by the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) puts the total number of coronavirus-related deaths around 30,000 while arguing that the total number of cases can likely be measured in the millions. The regime Parliament’s Research Center issued a report this week that stopped short of endorsing higher estimates like those put forward by the NCRI but nonetheless acknowledged that the official estimates for the death toll and overall infection rate were inaccurate. 

Regime’s English-language propaganda network, Press TV attempted to dispute Western media’s accounts of this report on Thursday, even going so far as to portray it as confirmation of over-estimates on the part of the Iranian Resistance and the White House. But regardless of ongoing disputes about precise figures, the report nonetheless demonstrates that regime authorities have been downplaying the impact of the coronavirus outbreak up to this point. 

Of course, that will become much more difficult to do if the country experiences a second wave of infections and deaths. This outcomes seems likely in the wake of the lifting of stay-at-home orders. And it seems even likelier when one considers that the Iranian regime is showing no further restraint in attacks on vulnerable populations, some of which have been forced into homelessness and left with little to no government support as they cope with further contractions to an already deeply damaged economy. As Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, NCRI’s president-elect has said: For Khamenei and Rouhani, the lives and well-being of the people are worthless. They only want to protect their regime from the threat of uprising. The criminal decision to send people to work is a crime against humanity and will cause countless number of victims  of COVID19 in Iran.”