In Iran, official estimates of the infection rate and death toll from coronavirus keep accelerating. But even after recording 54 deaths on Tuesday alone, the regime's narrative of the local epidemic is still nowhere near reality.
According to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) – a coalition leading the push for a democratic alternative to the clerical regime – more than 3,000 deaths can already be attributed to an outbreak that has encompassed 139 cities across every Iranian province.
This information comes from intelligence-gathering by the NCRI’s main constituent group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). The MEK maintains an elaborate network throughout Iranian society and inside the regime. Several of its activists have lost their lives while helping the virus victims, it said. It has previously proven to be a reliable source of information about various other matters, including the clerical regime's clandestine nuclear work and anti-regime protests.
The NCRI issued a full report on the scale of Iran’s COVID-19 outbreak on March 10. As well as contradicting Tehran’s low-ball estimates for the numbers of infections and deaths, the report details the ways in which authorities bungled their response to early reports of the illness spreading from China to Iran. It also notes that the epidemic is rapidly spreading within a number of Iranian prisons, facilitated in large part by the regime’s chronic disregard for the well-being of prisoners, especially political prisoners.
The president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, Maryam Rajavi, earlier urged human rights defenders and the international community to “take urgent action to save the lives of the prisoners, and prevent a major humanitarian catastrophe.” But there is little evidence that anyone internationally has taken serious action.
The new report highlights the ways in which the coronavirus outbreak is re-focusing a longstanding conflict between the Iranian regime and its people. It notes, for instance, that both President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei have attempted to cover up the coronavirus spread.
Medical supplies have been misappropriated, under-utilized, or hoarded and resold by corrupt institutions that are tied to the clerical regime and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Mrs. Rajavi has said that “the country’s medical and health care resources… must be put at the disposal of the Iranian people, hospitals, and physicians,” instead of being left with the likes of security forces and the IRGC.
The ayatollahs rejected the concept of large-scale quarantine out of hand, leading to the disease spreading like wildfire from its singular hub in the holy city of Qom.
The decision to leave Qom open to travel and tourism has led the situation to escalate to a point at which numerous other countries are implementing their own measures to isolate Iran.
These measures, unfortunately, are part of a reaction to the damage the Iranian regime has already done beyond its own borders. COVID-19 involving people who traveled to Iran have been recorded in around 10 other countries in the region, as well as Australia, Canada, and the United States. In fact, at a time when the spread of the virus seems to have been largely contained in China, where it originally came from, it is now using Iran as perhaps its greatest single vector for global transmission.
It would be wise for the international community to think of this as a metaphor for the Iranian regime’s overall role in the region and the world. The worsening epidemic is a testament to the mullahs’ disregard for the welfare of its own people and humanity overall. To the mullahs, the only thing that matters is their hold on power.
Unless the Iranian people have an opportunity to take hold of their own affairs, the coronavirus death toll will only continue to accelerate. And even if the damage from this one crisis proves to be something less than irreparable, there will inevitably be others that showcase the regime's same destructive impulses.
The mismanagement of the outbreak "has been very costly to the regime," according to the NCRI report. And this came close on the heels of mass protests against that regime, sparked by the sharing of entirely different grievances among Iran’s various demographic groups. There is little doubt that that same population will rise up again.
The international community should take this time to consider how they will stand with the participants in such an uprising. Doing so, in one way or another, would benefit not just the Iranian people’s welfare but also the long-term prospects for democracy in the Middle East and peace throughout the world.