PARIS: As the Islamic Republic of Iran continues to suffer from one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks, the government is reporting fewer than 100 new deaths each day. These estimates have been heavily questioned by the clerical regime’s detractors, as have all previous government estimates. The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) has been carefully tracking the pandemic’s impact with the help of an expansive intelligence network, and it has determined that the true death toll among Iranians is roughly six times what Iranian officials claim.
According to the NCRI, the number of fatalities in the capital city of Tehran is approximately equal to the number that the regime claims to have recorded across the entire country. The pro-democracy coalition has cited Iranian hospital records and eyewitness testimony from medical professionals as support for its alternative estimates.
And it has also highlighted the apparent motives guiding the regime’s erroneous reports.
Iran’s Media Disinformation Campaign
Unsurprisingly, Iranian state media’s disinformation campaign is tailored toward the support of prefabricated narratives about the regime’s overall competence and its supposed resilience in the face of US sanctions. This is somewhat ironic. In their communication with foreign diplomats, the Islamic Republic is making every effort to use the Coronavirus outbreak as a pretense for having sanctions removed.
This is plainly at odds with domestic reports that suggest the country is awash with empty hospital beds while explicitly declaring that sanctions have had no impact on the coronavirus response.
This latter claim is actually true.
As the US State Department has repeatedly emphasized, medicine and other humanitarian goods are not subject to sanctions enforcement. The regime, by all reports, has ample resources with which to address its people’s vital needs. The US has even made offers of direct medical aid for the Iranian people. Doctors Without Borders has offered to build a field hospital and provide staff capable of treating upwards of 50 patients at a time.
Both of these offers were explicitly rejected by Iranian authorities.
Iran refusing help from the “Great Satan”
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has come back to the issue several times, declaring that his regime will never request help from the “Great Satan.” Khamenei declaring he will never accept help if offered. Meanwhile, he has dragged his feet in offering up domestic resources to help the Iranian people receive treatment for the Coronavirus or weather the economic impacts of the outbreak. (Time is running out for Iran’s corrupt mullahs)
It took nearly two weeks after a request from President Hassan Rouhani before the supreme leader approved the release of one billion dollars from the country’s Sovereign Wealth Fund. The request itself was also late in coming, especially when one considers how much earlier the Iranian outbreak began than was initially reported.
On February 19, regime authorities announced that two people had died after being infected with the novel coronavirus. It was the first public statement that Tehran made on the topic. But considering that the Coronavirus may take two weeks to incubate and a further two weeks to kill and that the mortality rate is now estimated to be less than one percent.
It stands to reason that the outbreak was well underway by mid-February, and had likely spread to several thousand people.
This conclusion was borne out by documents that the NCRI obtained late last month
Documents are showing that Iran’s National Emergency Organization had recorded the admission of several suspected Coronavirus patients in late January. Authorities kept quiet about this for three weeks or more. Furthermore, they not only ignored the best of advice regarding social distancing but actually urged the public to assemble in great numbers. First for celebrations of the Iranian Revolution’s 41st anniversary and then for parliamentary elections that provide the regime with a façade of democratic legitimacy.
The more the Iranian death toll climbs, the more obvious it will become that these early actions set Iranian society on a path toward ruin. So, it is no wonder that the regime is downplaying the impact of the outbreak and criminalizing any dissenting accounts of the conditions in Iranian cities and hospitals.
Early in March, the judiciary made it clear that “rumor-mongering” on this issue would be punished with flogging and up to three years in prison. Accordingly, a number of arrest warrants have been executed for outspoken doctors, nurses, and morgue attendants, as well as ordinary social media users.
Iranian officials repressing the release of factual information
This repression comes as no surprise, especially given the recent history of anti-government revolt in the Islamic Republic.
Last November, millions of Iranians staged protests across more than 200 cities and towns, prompting a brutal response from the regime which killed an estimated 1,500 people. Since then, Iranian officials have clearly lived in fear of the inevitable reemergence of calls for regime change and “death to the dictator.”
Tehran’s awful mishandling of the Coronavirus outbreak sets the stage for renewed unrest, just as soon as it is safe to assemble again. It may seem surprising, then, that the clerical authorities are pushing for ordinary Iranians to return to the streets before it is safe.
On April 11, the regime began scaling back a very brief lockdown, reopening government offices and ordering workers back to supposedly “low-risk” positions.
Not only does this threaten to start the second wave of infections and expose the falsity of official mortality estimates, it also leaves the people with fewer barriers to a new uprising.
Iran officials sending people back to work, spreading the Coronavirus
Naturally, if the public health risk and the people’s simmer rage were the only factors, the economy would not have been re-opened prematurely. But unfortunately for all parties involved, Tehran is simply unwilling to spend much more than the already allocated one billion dollars on helping impoverished Iranians through this uniquely challenging time. As regime authorities and state-affiliated businesses continue to hoard most of the national wealth among themselves, their only choice is to either let the people support themselves or risk an even fiercer and more imminent uprising by a starving and neglected population.
There is no realistic scenario in which that population’s rage does not grow.
But it is only by expanding upon initial mismanagement of the public health crisis that the regime can hope to forestall public unrest for at least a little while. Sadly, this could result in tens of thousands of additional deaths. Even more sadly, these would be added to an existing death toll that is most likely over 33,800.
Tehran is responsible for virtually all those deaths, and the international community is responsible for making sure that the regime is held accountable for its actions, or lack thereof, once the coronavirus pandemic is over.
Iran, Coronavirus, Regime, Sanctions, Khamenei