Stop Potential COVID-19 Pandemic in Iran

Stop Potential COVID-19 Pandemic in Iran

N° 2131-20

February 28, 2020

The Honorable Mike Pompeo Secretary of State

U.S. Department of State

Re: Stop Potential COVID-19 Pandemic in Iran

Dear Secretary Pompeo:

While news of the outbreak of the Coronavirus was reported on global media, many had become interested in the Coronavirus news in Iran and a number of Iranian citizens were reporting that their loved ones had died of lung infection.

Because of the then impending elections of the Eleventh Parliament in Iran, and on the orders of the authorities of the Islamic Republic, no Coronavirus disease was, or is, reported until one of the victims’ families succeeds in announcing it.  Relatives of people who have lost their lives not only because of Coronavirus but also because of lack of medical services are threatened and warned by the authorities that they have no right to report Coronavirus cases to the media and must remain silent.

Due to the lack of freedom of expression and lack of transparency in Iran, many have been infected with the Coronavirus. Unfortunately, as media and press are under control of the government and IRGC, the outbreak was kept secret and, consequently, it became too late to prevent loss of many lives and late for the government and the Ministry of Health to manage the crisis with any viable and effective plans.

Most flights to and from China were either cancelled or heavily monitored in the world except in Iran where the Mahan Airlines that was on the United States embargo list continued to fly between Iran and China; in fact, Mahan used this opportunity to increase these flights. All of this is the result of serious violations of, and gross disregard for, protocols of the World Health Organization and, loss of lives of Iranians and visitors.

In Iran, as you are fully aware and have reported accordingly, there is a silencing war against the public. I must point out that many political, civil, religious, and human rights activists as well as lawyers, and protesters are being held in prisons where the probability of becoming infected by the Coronavirus is very high. The lives of political prisoners are in danger.

Oppressed people of Iran are helpless and hostage to an anti-humanitarian government. Please, do not let the Iranian people alone. They need your support, today.

It is with the utmost urgency that Iran National Council for Free Elections (IRANNC) appeals to your high office to take immediate and effective action to provide help and assistance to the Iranian people and to dispatch medical and health services to Iran by through pertinent institutions such as the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

We sincerely thank you for your assistance in, and consideration to, this urgent humanitarian matter.

Very truly yours,

Nazila Golestan

Special Envoy for Human Rights

Iran National Council for Free Elections



His Excellency António Guterres

Secretary General of United Nations

His Excellency Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein,

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Mr. Brian Hook

U.S. Special Representative for Iran

Dr. Tedros Adhanom

President, World Health Organization

Mr. Peter Maurer CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC

President, International Committee of the Red Cross

Mr. Javid Rehman,

UN Special Reporter on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran

Mr. Salil Shetty, Secretary,

Secretary General of the Amnesty International

What Is Happening in Iran?

Radio Farda surveys show that in the days when the Islamic Republic of Iran claimed to have suspended Mahan flights to and from China, the flights from Tehran to four Chinese cities were operating in accordance with the regular schedule.

Because of the spread of Coronavirus, the Iranian government announced on January 31, 2020 that flights between the two countries had been suspended. Yet, Mahan Airlines, headed by Hamid Arabnejad, posted an Instagram on February 24, 2020 that the last flight of Mahan airlines took place on February 4th and 5th.

Further surveys by Radio Farda show that Mahan Airlines continued to operate flights to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen from February 5th until February 23rd. The company made at least 55 roundtrip flights to China in that period of time.

With the presence of 700 Chinese theological students at the Qom Seminary “the largest Shi’a Seminary in Iran”, Coronavirus began spreading in that city and became the reason for high mortality rates in Iran’s clerical centers; news that the state media tried to hide.

According to Mohammad Hossein Ayati, head of the Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, the incubation period of the disease is between two and 14 days and most people are likely to get the virus but some may have no symptoms because of their strong immune system; however, asymptomatic people could be carriers of the disease.

According to a citizen journalist from northern Iran a drug store had quoted the Ministry of Health as having announced that each city’s health centers were distributing antiseptic gel, alcohol, etc. The journalist went to the health center in his city and was told there had been no such announcement.

Mohammad Mehdi Goya, head of the Ministry of Health, Center for Infectious Diseases, also admitted that the kits were available only during the prior one week.

At the moment, many people feel insecure, workers in the factories and dormitories are at the risk of getting infected, South Pars workers wrote on social media that “here everything is public, even dormitories and the situation is worrisome. There is very little sanitation. There are apparently meetings to give health packages to staff. But likely not all workers will get these packages.” “Some higher-level contractors give workers health kits, but sub-contractors likely will not.”

Workers at the Persian Gulf ports of Assaluyeh and Kangan expressed concern about the likelihood of becoming infected and said “There are rumors that 3 to 4 workers were hospitalized and quarantined.”

Also, the staff of Iran Khodro Company wrote to us and expressed their concerns: “There are thousands of people working in this complex without any health precautions or hygiene tips.”  A nurse wrote that she is pregnant and has not been granted leave.” At this stage the hospitals themselves are propagation centers for the Coronavirus due to limited space.

Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, Qom representative in the Parliament said on Monday in the open parliament meeting that: “Every day, 10 people die in Qom … Until last night 50 people died of Coronavirus. The Minister of Health is guilty. During this time, 32 people died at the Coronavirus quarantine site.  Two children have also tested positive. The government is trying not to spread the news so that people will not become anxious. It is true that we should keep calm, but we should not overlook the scale of the crisis as if nothing had happened.”

The Free World should not be indifferent to the Islamic Republic’s irresponsible, totalitarian behavior.  Secrecy about the spread of the Coronavirus in Iran, the number of Mahan flights between China and Iran, the extent to which the virus is transmitted to some other countries is unacceptable.

Iraqi authorities have confirmed that the first Coronavirus infection in their country was an “Iranian clergy student.” The Iraqi Ministry of Health has announced that said Iranian student is in quarantine. Reuters reported that, aside from Iraq, Kuwait and Bahrain reported their first cases of Coronavirus all of which came from Iran.  Kuwait has identified 3 people who tested positive for the virus among 700 returnees from the city of Mashhad in northeast Iran. Bahrain has also confirmed that one of its citizens was infected with the Coronavirus after returning from Iran.  The incompetent government of Iran is causing the spread of a deadly virus in the region.

Hassan Rouhani assured Iranians that his government would be transparent about the scale of the outbreak, after the United States said it was “deeply concerned by information indicating the Iranian regime may have suppressed vital details”. He accused Iran’s arch enemy of trying to use Covid-19 to instill “fear” in people. “Coronavirus must not be turned into a weapon for our enemies to halt work and production in our country,” he said, adding that Americans “are also suffering”.

The ISNA news agency later reported that the head of a new Iranian cyber police unit, Vahid Majid, had announced the arrest of 24 people suspected of being “rumour-mongers” regarding the outbreak.

The media watchdog Reporters Without Borders warned Iran: “Respect for the public’s right to full, independent, diverse and quality news reporting, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is the best way to protect the population and combat rumours. Withholding information can kill.”

Religious authorities also resisted the cancellation of Friday prayers until Thursday and said they would hold the prayers with “preventative measures” but they finally relented and announced that the prayers were cancelled in 23 province capitals out of 31, including Tehran, Qom, and Mashhad. The decision to cancel prayers in smaller cities has been referred to governors and health officials.

Chaos appears to be reigning in the management of the Coronavirus outbreak. Various government officials make contradictory statements and, in some instances, health officials appear to be under pressure from other governmental and religious bodies to downplay the situation.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei released a taped video statement about the Coronavirus crisis on his website on February 27. However, in his brief statement Khamenei only thanked healthcare officials and staff and did not make any comments about the extent of the outbreak or the government efforts to contain the crisis.

Sources: Radio Farda, BBC, Citizen Journalists from inside Iran