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Coronavirus Spreads Across Iran, as Its Death Toll Rises to 300, Regime Takes No Actions

Iran: Coronavirus spreads across the country
Iran: Coronavirus spreads across the country

According to the news obtained by the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI, Mujahedin-e Khalq or MEK), the number of those who have lost their lives due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) exceeds 300.

In Qom at least 114, in Tehran 30, in Kashan 22, in Isfahan 21, in Rasht 18, and in Arak 12 people have died so far. The virus has spread to all 31 provinces.

Nevertheless, by engaging in cover-up and deception, the clerical regime continues to claim that 34 have died and 388 have contracted the virus. 

After starting the week by acknowledging only a dozen deaths, government authorities found themselves denying independent accounts of a much worse epidemic, while revising the official death toll first to 15, the later to 26, and ultimately, on Friday, to 34. 

The regime’s authorities also stated that these fatalities resulted from a total of 388 instances of infection. This marked the second consecutive day on which the regime added more than 100 cases to the overall total. But these updates are still not keeping pace with expert projections and eyewitness observations about the severity of the epidemic. The report published by the MEK also debunks these bogus claims.  

Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, member of the regime’s parliament from the city of Qom said on Monday that 50 fatalities had resulted from the emerging pandemic in the city of Qom alone. Later in the week, Iranian doctors defied a government-imposed gag order in order to communicate their estimates of nearly 20,000 individual coronavirus cases throughout the country. Now the MEK revelation of the number of victims sheds more light on the dimensions of this crisis.  

These estimates of death and non-fatal infection are seemingly consistent, since the virus has come to exhibit a global mortality rate somewhere in the vicinity of one percent since it emerged from China last year. By contrast, the Iranian regime’s official estimates are very much out-of-step with that mortality rate, suggesting that the regime has been keeping instances of infection secret but has had a more difficult time concealing deaths caused by those infections. 

Adding to the challenge for the regime is the fact that multiple regime’s officials have recently taken ill, including Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi, who began showing symptoms on live television as he worked to reassure the public that the outbreak was under control. After offering well-wishes to Harirchi and Masoumeh Ebtekar, both of whom tested positive for coronavirus, regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stated publicly that he was “hopeful” about the country overcoming the infection. 

This stood in contrast to the tone of Khamenei’s statements less than a week earlier. On Sunday, when the government had formally acknowledged only 43 cases and eight deaths, the regime’s supreme leader proclaimed that the virus presented no problem to the people. He also accused Western powers of deliberately spreading fears of an outbreak “to discourage people from voting” in the previous Friday’s sham parliamentary elections, which was boycotted by the Iranian people.  

Those elections showcased the lowest rate of voter participation in the history of the regime. The lack of participation was due to an organized boycott of the electoral process, motivated by recent crimes committed by the regime, such as its brutal crackdown on the Iran protests in November 2019 and January 2020 and shooting down the Ukrainian passenger jet and then denying for 3 consecutive days.  In the wake of that boycott, regime’s authorities embraced coronavirus as an alternate explanation, albeit without admitting the full scale of the outbreak. 

Throughout the past week, there were signs of tension between the impulse to highlight the disease’s impact and the impulse to cover up the regime’s failure to adequately contain it. Accordingly, various officials continued to promote the narrative of a Western hoax. Regime’s President Hassan Rouhani stated once again on Friday that “the disease is being controlled” and that the regime would not be affected by “the enemies’ plots to spread fear.” Yet, as reports from the previous day demonstrated, efforts to contradict the regime’s official account of the situation are coming not only from Western governments or international crisis-monitoring groups, but rather from among the Iranian people themselves. 

This was first made clear by anonymous disclosures from Iranian doctors and dissenting officials. But even as the regime publicly denied higher estimates of the infection rate and death toll, security forces carried out arrests of numerous Iranian citizens who had spoken out about the government’s deliberate disinformation. At least 142 individuals were detained by Iran’s Cyber Police and accused of “rumor-mongering.” Of these, 24 remain in detention, pending charges that could result in up to three years in prison, plus floggings. 

If the outbreak continues to worsen and the regime’s response remains unchanged, it stands to reason that this repression will further swell the population of Iran’s political prison wards, many of which are already badly overcrowded. What’s more, these two problems threaten to amplify each other in a sort of feedback loop, since Iranian prison facilities are notorious incubators for the spread of disease. 

The problems of poor sanitation and inadequate space in those facilities are compounded by the fact that prisoners are routinely denied access to medical treatment. On Friday it was reported that lack of access to medical care was a factor in at least one death of a prisoner believed to be afflicted with coronavirus. 

On Tuesday, the regime’s Health Ministry’s head of public relations, Kianush Jahanpur said there were “no particular reports of confirmed cases” within the prison system. But inmates themselves had conveyed to activists and social media users the fact that there were apparent outbreaks in both Evin Prison and Karaj Central Prison. The one reported fatality, meanwhile, took place in Greater Tehran Penitentiary. The 44-year-old victim was identified only as Hamid-Reza, and it was reported that he presented with severe flu-like symptoms for several days but was not transferred to hospital. 

Jahanpur’s claim of there being no known outbreak was further undermined by descriptions of specific measures being taken by authorities at Karaj. Residents of the political ward have reportedly been moved to a “workers’ ward,” while the political ward has been repurposed for quarantining sick inmates. Yet there is no indication that access to medical services has been in any way expanded, and this naturally leads to speculation that the least healthy inmates are effectively being left in quarantine to die. 

Meanwhile, inmates at other prisons have complained that authorities are not even taking action to separate prisoners, much less expanding access to medical care. Some have threatened to stage hunger strikes in order to demand adoption of at least minimal countermeasures. And those demands are being echoed from outside of the prisons by inmates’ families, several of which have written letters to the judiciary calling for political prisoners to be furloughed until coronavirus is brought back under control. 

The prisons, particularly the Great Tehran Penitentiary are overcrowded, since the regime arrested thousands of protesters during the Iran protests and has been keeping them there in a poor condition. The regime’s crackdown on the Iran protests was among the worst repression to be meted out by regime’s authorities in the 41 years since the 1979 revolution. The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran determined that 1,500 people were shot dead by security forces and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, while roughly 12,000 people were arrested.

So extensive and rapid were those arrests that the regime effectively exceeded the limits of its ability to process new detainees. Elementary schools and other government buildings were recognizably converted into makeshift jails in the midst of the unrest, and many of the arrestees are still being tried and sentenced to this day. The Human Rights Activists News Agency reported on Thursday that at least six new sentences had been handed down for protesters, ranging from six months to nine years in prison. 

Under present circumstances, the persistence of this sentencing showcases the judiciary’s insensitivity to the increased danger than political prisoners are facing. But in spite of public efforts to appeal to the body’s top official, this comes as little surprise to anyone familiar with the judiciary’s record or that of Ebrahim Raisi. 

When he was appointed by the supreme leader last year, Raisi was regarded as a symbol of the regime’s brutality. In 1988, he had played a leading role in the mass execution of political prisoners, which claimed an estimated 30,000 lives, mostly members and supporters of the MEK.  

Under Raisi’s tenure, there are indications that the regime has intensified repression to maintain its shaky rule. The official record of executions has never fully described the scale of killing in the Iranian prison system. Poor conditions and denial of medical care have arguably contributed to untold numbers of shadow executions, and this rate may be poised to escalate sharply in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. 

What’s more, the comparatively pro-active procedures being adopted in Karaj Central Prison may actually make the situation even worse over the long term. This is to say, by quarantining sick prisoners in the political ward, officials could be promoting the spread of disease within an area that is reportedly the least hygienic and most poorly ventilated area of the prison. 

Assuming the quarantine procedure is only temporary, political prisoners will no doubt be returned to that ward once the coronavirus outbreak has died down within the general population. And if the political wards of Karaj or any other facility are not properly sanitized at that time, the risk is there for a resurgent outbreak among already-mistreated prisoners, at a time when public scrutiny will potentially have diminished. 

In a nutshell, the regime’s measures both inside the prison and outside are not just in favor of the Iranian people and containing the coronavirus, is indeed used as another measure of oppression.  

As Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran repeatedly said, the United Nations should send an international fact-finding mission to the Iranian prisons and hold the Iranian regime to account for its crimes against humanity.

Regarding the spread of COVID-19, Mrs. Rajavi had emphasized that “The United Nations, World Health Organization, and other international human rights organizations must compel the religious fascism ruling Iran to make public all the facts and figures regarding COVID-19 and provide them to relevant international organizations in order to save the lives of the people of Iran and other countries in the region.”