Ayatollah Adviser Dies as Dissidents Claim Hundreds of Coronavirus Deaths in Iran

Wearing a face mask, a woman travels on a public bus at a square in western Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. Iran is preparing for the possibility of "tens of thousands" of people getting tested for the new coronavirus as the number of confirmed cases spiked again Saturday, Health …
AP Photo/Vahid Salemi

The real death toll of the Chinese coronavirus in Iran may be over 600 people, the top dissident organization in the country revealed on Monday, while Tehran insists only 66 have died but acknowledges that at least one senior government official is among them.

The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), which advocates against the Islamic revolutionary regime internationally, announced in a press release Monday that, using its sources within hospitals in the country, it estimated that as many as 650 people had died in Iran since the outbreak there began in February. A little less than half of those deaths, about 300, allegedly occurred in Qom, the city to first confirm a case of novel coronavirus, PMOI/MEK officials stated.

According to the organization’s statement, as of Sunday night, the group had compiled evidence of “some 150 victims in Tehran, 46 in Isfahan, 23 in Gilan, 18 in Lorestan and 45 in Kermanshah provinces,” but named several other smaller cities whose health workers had reported deaths attributable to the virus.

“The mullahs’ regime has failed to take any effective preventive measures to deal with the spread of the virus, including the quarantine of cities affected by the virus,” PMOI/MEK asserted in its Monday statement. “Preventive medical resources are essentially in the possession of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and regime officials. Ordinary patients are deprived of many basic necessities. In a letter to Hassan Rouhani, the regime’s Health Minister wrote that the masks were being sold on the black market at exorbitant prices. IRGC controls the huge smuggling network.”

The IRGC is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an official wing of the Iranian military, but a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.
The organization noted that Iran had yet to block flights from China, the country where the virus originated and accused Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of ordering a cover-up to boost turnout for the February 23 sham parliamentary elections. The attempt failed; the elections boasted the lowest turnout in Iran’s history since the 1979 revolution, yielding a “victory” for the “hard-line” Islamist wing of the government.

Many countries, following the lead of the United States, have either limited or halted air travel to and from China. Every province of China has documented at least one case of the new coronavirus, first identified in the central city of Wuhan.

At press time, China has documented over 80,000 cases of the virus and the overwhelming majority of the deaths on record. Internationally, the World Health Organization (WHO) has documented 89,198 cases of the virus and a little over 3,000 deaths. In Iran, the government officially claims over 1,510 confirmed cases and 66 deaths. Iranian media claimed that another over 4,000 individuals are “suspected” of carrying the novel coronavirus.

International reports, evidence from groups like PMOI/MEK, and statements from officials within the Iranian government have all challenged Tehran’s official case tallies since the Iranian government revealed the virus had migrated there from China last month. Last week, the BBC published a report stating that it had independently confirmed 210 deaths in the country, a far larger number than the 34 on the official government register. In response to that report, Iranian Member of Parliament Gholamali Jafarzadeh Imenabadi publicly stated that official statements were “not true,” citing the surge of individuals being buried at cemeteries in affected communities.

“I have statistics about the number of deaths due to coronavirus from three different cemeteries in Rasht and I have to say that the numbers are much higher than what is being said,” Imenabadi said.

A week before Imenabadi made his remarks, another lawmaker, Ahmad Amirabadi Farhani, openly denounced the regime for lying, stating that 50 people had died from the Chinese coronavirus at a time in which Iran had only revealed 12 deaths.

Public health experts also doubt the Iranian government case numbers accurately reflect the situation on the ground. Asif Shuja of the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute told CNBC in a report published Monday that the fact that Iran announced its first cases of coronavirus simultaneous to its announcement of the first deaths indicates that they knew of the individuals dying as confirmed cases before they died and hid the cases until their deaths.

“That is what can compel anyone that there has been cover-up, as far as infection is concerned,” Shuja said, adding that the timing of the outbreak alongside parliamentary elections also created “a lot of compulsion to restrict the information related to that because they still had two days for the election … That is why one can safely assume that the information that is coming out of Iran is not entirely to be trusted.”

There is compelling evidence to believe the outbreak has expanded out of Qom and into the highest levels of the Iranian Islamic regime. On Monday, several Iranian news outlets confirmed the death of Seyed Mohammad Mir-Mohammadi, 71, a member of Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council and thus one of Khamenei’s top advisers. The adviser reportedly tested positive for coronavirus before dying of pneumonia, which it causes.

Iran’s Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar also tested positive for Wuhan virus last week, as did Iraj Harirchi, the official in charge of coronavirus response.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.



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