Ever since the Iranian regime acknowledged that coronavirus infection was active in the country, The Iranian Resistance has been warning about pervasive disinformation coming out of Tehran. Just two days after Iranian officials made their first public statement on the topic, the NCRI President-elect Mrs. Maryam Rajavi appealed to the World Health Organization to dispatch experts who would be able to appropriately assess and then respond to the severity of the outbreak. To the Iranian resistance and people, it was clear from the outset that the regime’s priorities would tend toward protecting its own image and safeguarding its theocratic system, rather than managing the crisis.
Accordingly, every official statement from Iran’s Ministry of Health has sought to downplay the crisis, and has been contradicted in due course by multiple sources. One of the first such contradictions came from a local official in the city of Qom, which revealed itself in late February as the epicenter of the outbreak not just for Iran but for the entirety of the Middle East. At that time, Tehran was still insisting that the death toll for the entire country had barely exceeded a dozen, but local reports indicated that scores of people had died in Qom alone – so many, in fact, that some morgues had exceeded their capacity.
The regime’s Health Ministry, fearing its cover-up could trigger protests by people, quietly revised its estimates in the wake of backlash from local officials who recognized the crisis as being chronically underreported in state media. But the revisions remained well out of step with reality, and that same trend continues to the present day. The effect, of course, has only been to make the situation worse, despite the regime’s attempts in bolstering international perceptions about how well the crisis is being managed. Unfortunately, some western media continue to report the regime’s official infection rates and death tolls as if they are accurate, and in so doing they promote a fantasy designed solely to advance the mullahs’ aims.
This overly credulous reporting has, of course, become less and less justifiable over time. In the first few weeks after Tehran acknowledged the outbreak had begun, the media was complicit in the cover-up of hundreds of deaths. But today, the unreported deaths number in the tens of thousands. While official statements from the Health Ministry now put the Covid-19 death toll somewhere between 21,000 and 22,000 individuals, the National Council of Resistance of Iran reported that the actual death toll is nearly five times that number – very nearly 100,000.
The actual death toll has been published by t the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI-MEK), which was first in 2002 to reveal key aspects of Tehran’s clandestine nuclear program. Since then, it has proven to be a valuable source of information about domestic affairs in Iran, thanks to an active and sprawling intelligence network that includes sources inside different institution.
That aside, the Iranian resistance reports on the coronavirus outbreak in Iran are supported by the hospital records and eyewitness testimony from Iranian medical professionals and other persons with intimate personal experience of the crisis. The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) revealed several relevant documents to the public, including records from the National Emergency Organization which showed that the outbreak was active in Iran, and had been recognized by officials, long before anyone acknowledged the situation publicly.
The NCRI’s revelations showed that suspected coronavirus cases had been admitted to Iranian hospitals in late January. But a later leak, provided directly to the press by a former member of the Health Ministry’s National Coronavirus Combat Task Force during the regime’s infightings, suggested that previous cases had been registered an entire month earlier. This further confirms all accusations of underreporting by the regime. If official estimates began several weeks after the outbreak was active, then the Health Ministry would presumably be ignoring hundreds of early cases in order to start its count in the single digits.
And this blind spot could be even larger, depending on how much contact there was between Iranians and infected individuals during the time when Tehran was still denying that coronavirus had reached Iran. The regime’s authorities were deliberately increasing the public risk in the days before they finally acknowledged the threat to public health. The first such public statement, on February 19, came in the immediate aftermath of celebrations for the anniversary of the regime seizing power, for which mullahs advocated to have the greatest possible public participation.
Two days after that statement, the regime held its sham parliamentary elections. Participation therein was deemed a “religious duty” by the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and the lack of any coronavirus countermeasures seemed to indicate that the regime recognized no reciprocal duty of its own. That message was underscored in subsequent weeks by inexcusably slow adoption of social distancing protocols, and a premature resumption of economic activities, in line with Khamenei’s declaration that the year of the coronavirus should also be considered the “year of boosting production.”
Through this all, regime officials have done all they could to present a flattering picture of their own response to the crisis. Many of these efforts look plainly ridiculous in retrospect, as with the regime’s president, Hassan Rouhani’s immediate assertion that life would be “returned to normal” by the end of February, barely more than a week after his colleagues admitted that there was any problem at all. Yet these sorts of statements continue to emerge, as if the authorities are simply reissuing them after editing the projected end date for the crisis.
In this way, Tehran has repeatedly proven itself to be untrustworthy with respect to reporting on the coronavirus pandemic. So why does the international community feel compelled to continue repeating the regime’s official estimates for Iran’s infection rate and death toll, while largely ignoring the more transparently sourced and more widely corroborated statements coming from the NCRI? This error in reporting only serves to rehabilitate the image of the Iranian regime, at a time when it bears responsibility for the deaths of tens of thousands of most vulnerable Iranian citizens.