Sistan and Baluchistan’s problems camouflaged for minister’s visit

The visit of Saeed Namaki, Iran’s minister of health, to Sistan and Baluchistan has created more problems for the embattled province, which is currently experiencing its third COVID-19 wave. Provincial hospitals that Namaki was due to visit dismissed patients after three days, regardless of their condition, to demonstrate that they had enough empty beds and were not in crisis. Local news outlets have reported on the early dismissals, which in a few cases are said to have resulted in patients’ deaths.

Fars News produced a photoreport showing hospitals in Zahedan hastily outfitted before the health minister’s visit to create a facade of normality.

Though authorities claim the pandemic is under control in the region, Sistan and Baluchistan remains in a dire situation. One member of an emergency aid group that was called to the province said that the daily coronavirus death toll was 22 or 23. Local sources claim that in Zabol County alone between 15 and 17 have been dying every day.

Moeinoddin Saeidi, the Majles representative for Chabahar, openly criticized the COVID-19 response in Sistan and Baluchistan, saying that “according to official statistics, 32 people have died; however, the number of deaths resulting from coronavirus in the villages are not recorded anywhere due to a lack of testing kits and ID cards.” In Sistan and Baluchistan Province, many people living on the margins of cities or in far-flung villages do not have Iran’s national ID card; as a result, they are frequently unable to access medical treatment, and their illnesses and deaths often go unrecorded.

Online matchmaking now entrusted to the IDO

In March, Nooshin Nabaei, deputy minister of sports and youth, announced that all matchmaking sites are illegal in Iran and that no entity is empowered to issue licenses for such sites. Four months later, Tebyan, a site run by Komeil Khojasteh Baqerzadeh, the nephew of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s wife, reported the introduction of an app called Hamdam, designed to provide counseling and matchmaking services for young people.

Present at the unveiling ceremony for the app was Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the current Majles speaker and a close associate of the Khojastehs, and Hojatoleslam Qomi, president of the Islamic Development Organization of Iran (IDO).

Tebyan operates under the umbrella of the IDO, which is under the direct supervision of the supreme leader. 

The name, logo, and even the color scheme of the app exactly duplicate the attributes of an app that was released four years ago by the IranCubator project, run by members of the Paris-based feminist organization Spectrum. The original Hamdam informs women about their reproductive and legal rights.

Iranians travel to Armenia for vaccinations

Photos have been published on social media showing a line of Iranian travelers waiting to enter Armenia to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Armenia has announced that, starting next week, foreigners who enter the country for vaccinations must spend at least ten days there. Since a ten-day stay in Armenia is prohibitively expensive for most Iranians, many are trying to get into the country before the rule goes into effect.

ILNA reports that 18,000 Iranians have traveled to Armenia in just 48 hours.

With COVID-19 cases growing in recent days in what is being called the fifth coronavirus wave in Iran, Iranians have been traveling to neighboring countries that are cheaper to stay in and do not require a visa.

Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, has prohibited the import of any Western-made vaccines. Over the last few months, the Russian Sputnik and Chinese Sinopharm vaccines have been imported in limited quantities and designated for healthcare professionals and individuals age 70 and older. ILNA reports that 7 million Iranians have been vaccinated, out of a total population of roughly 83 million.

The Iranian Health Ministry has issued emergency authorization for the domestically formulated Barakat vaccine, but it does not appear that mass production of it will be possible in the foreseeable future. There have been multiple news reports on problems in the vaccine production line, though these claims have been officially denied.

Iranians protest electricity outages in multiple cities

Against the backdrop of ongoing strikes by oil, petrochemical, and livestock workers, prolonged power outages in many Iranian cities have sparked a new wave of protests. Over the past few days, the electricity in Tehran and various other cities, including Mashhad, Isfahan, Kazerun, Shiraz, Dezful, and several locations in Mazandaran Province, has been cut frequently, for long periods, and without advance notice. In some cities, including Tehran, residents went without power for eight hours. The power outages have also put patients’ lives in further danger: A video making the rounds on social media shows a doctor announcing the death of two patients in a hospital’s cardiac care unit due to the power outages. Physician Mohammadreza Hashemian said that, in the time between power outages and the connection of ventilators to the emergency power supply, patients are in danger and that some have even lost their lives this way. Social media users have also reported that a produce market in Shiraz caught fire due to repeated power outages.

Citizens of Kazerun, Dezful, the Kahrizak region of Tehran, Rey, and many other cities in Mazandaran Province have gathered outside the local power and electricity authority facilities to protest and shout slogans against Iran’s energy minister. There are unconfirmed reports that protesters in Kazerun actually set fire to the local power department. Videos circulating on social media also show that, while citizens suffered through power outages, the numerous projectors shining light on the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini were still on, as was the power at some of Qom’s seminaries.

In some cities, including Tehran, protesters angry about the power outages chanted “Death to Khamenei.”

Farmers protesting in Isfahan and Khuzestan

Protests have now spread from the industrial sector to agriculture. On Tuesday, Isfahani farmers gathered in front of the Isfahan provincial capitol building to protest water policies and the government’s negligence of the Zayanderud River. Police attempted to disperse the protesting farmers, beating some with batons.

Khuzestan farmers gathered in front of the Khuzestan Water Authority headquarters to protest the lack of water, both for individual consumption and agricultural uses. Khuzestan is facing a crisis of potable water, and many of this oil-rich province’s cities and towns simply cannot meet the demand. As if a lack of water wasn’t enough of a problem, the province also faces chronic electricity shortages.

Workers from the pest control division of the Haft Tappeh sugarcane company also entered the 11th day of a general strike.

In the city of Assaluyeh, daily water and food rations were cut to put pressure on the workers to break the strike and deter further ones.

COVID-19 crisis in Sistan and Baluchistan grows

Although many of Iran’s provinces are still deep in the throes of the COVID-19 crisis, the situation in Sistan and Baluchistan Province is particularly dire. According to sources on the ground in the city of Zabol, between 37 and 40 people are now being infected each day; fewer than 20 new cases per day were recorded during the initial wave of the pandemic. Official statistics show that 60 percent of recent COVID-19 tests have come back positive. The severity of infections is such that, in some cases, every member of an affected family comes down with COVID. Moeinoddin Saeidi, the Majles representative for the city of Chabahar, said that more than 1,200 new cases are being identified in the province every day.

Sistan and Baluchistan Province is one of Iran’s most underdeveloped provinces, and as a result, hospitals and other healthcare facilities outside of the provincial capital of Zahedan are small and rudimentary. During the first week after the initial Iranian cases of COVID-19 were detected, two hospitals in Iranshahr, one of the province’s largest cities, were forced to tell patients they were unable to perform lung scans due to missing or faulty equipment. Hospitals in the cities of Chabahar and Khash are also lacking in facilities and have had similar problems meeting the needs of COVID-19 patients. The province’s villages and smaller towns lack hospitals altogether, resulting in a problematic influx of patients from these areas into larger cities’ hospitals. Local sources say the hospitals and even the morgues are at full capacity. Residents of Sistan and Baluchistan have responded to the overflow of medical facilities by trying to procure their own medical equipment, especially oxygen capsules, should they need to take care of themselves at home. Health Minister Saeed Namaki called the claims of overcapacity “agitation” and said that there were 400 empty beds in provincial hospitals, but a document posted online shows that orders to build two field hospitals have been issued.

In keeping with the trend in recent years of Iranian citizens organizing to meet needs unaddressed by the government, people from around the country have rushed to Sistan and Baluchistan’s aid, with grassroots charity groups pooling resources to buy necessary health and pharmaceutical supplies, such as oxygen capsules, oxygen machines, and medicinal/nutritional serum, all of which have been scarce and sometimes impossible to find in recent days; when available, prices for such supplies have doubled or even tripled. Some sources also report that Iran has rejected Doctors Without Borders’ offer to send medical teams to Iran to deal with this latest uptick in the COVID-19 crisis. Due to the gravity of the COVID-19 situation in Sistan and Baluchistan, the provincial authorities have issued a statement announcing the closure of all provincial institutions.

Joint project between Iran and Cuba to produce COVID-19 vaccine canceled

Production of the Cuban coronavirus vaccine, which was planned as a joint project between Iran and Cuba, has been canceled. Doctor Minoo Mohraz, a member of Iran’s scientific committee to combat the coronavirus, said that after the third phase of the Cuban vaccine’s clinical trials in Iran, the Cuban ambassador announced that Cuba no longer had a shared project with Iran and that priority would be shifted to their own country and others in Latin America.

Dr. Mohraz said that in terms of the Iranian vaccines, only the Barakat vaccine has received an emergency approval license to be produced; other vaccines are still in the second or third phase of testing. At the end of June, IRGC commander Hossein Salami announced the production of the Nora vaccine. At the unveiling ceremony for the vaccine, which according to Dr. Mohraz has in fact yet to go into production, Salami claimed that the new vaccine would be provided to the US and impoverished countries.

Last year, shortly after the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran, the Revolutionary Guards unveiled a supposed coronavirus-detecting device, which later turned out to be ineffective. The device, dubbed “Masta’an,” had in fact been previously sold to the government as a drug-detection device.

Failed COVID-19 response plunges province of Sistan & Baluchistan into humanitarian catastrophe

Moinuddin Saeidi, the Majles representative for Chabahar, said in an interview with a reporter from ILNA that in Sistan and Baluchistan Province more than 1,000 people a day are being infected with COVID-19, and that the outbreak has created a humanitarian catastrophe. Saeidi demanded accountability from officials at the Ministry of Health and asked them to explain why the country’s vaccination campaign, especially in Sistan and Baluchistan, is in such a poor state.

According to a Tehran Bureau correspondent, the Coronavirus Disease Management Headquarters in Sistan and Baluchistan Province has announced that due to the escalating rate of COVID-19 infections, all government offices, judiciary facilities, and banks will be closed as of tomorrow, July 3.

Ahmadinejad implicitly mocks Khamenei in video

Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took an implicit swipe at Ayatollah Khamenei, saying he feels sorry for the “person” who called the recent presidential election an “enormous victory.”

In a video released by SolsMedia on Twitter,  Ahmadinejad says, “One feels sorry, firstly for the country, secondly for oneself, and then for the person who says this election was an enormous victory.” 

Earlier in the week, Ali Khamenei described the recent elections as “epic,” saying that efforts on social media to diminish “the enormity of this election” were futile.

SolsMedia, which is affiliated with Ahmadinejad, also released a video of Supreme Leader Khamenei from 2001 in which he says, “It is disgraceful for a nation to have 35 percent or 40 percent of eligible voters turn out [to vote]. This shows that [those] people do not trust, do not care for, and have no hope in their political system.”

The 2021 presidential election saw the lowest voter turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic, with only 48.8 percent of eligible voters participating.

Ahmadinejad, who was disqualified from running in the 2021 presidential race, has been vocal about his criticism of the supreme leader and his family.

Widespread strikes by Iranian oil and petrochemical industry workers

Since June 22, oil and petrochemical industry workers from across Iran have been participating in a general strike, uniting under the banner of what they are calling the “2021 Campaign.” As part of the campaign, they have posted videos of their strikes, which include job action dates and locations, to social media. The Sina Palayesh Qeshm refinery in Tehran, Bushehr Petrochemical, Setareh Damavand Oil Holding, Arak Machinery, Shaludeh Shayan Behbahan Contractors, Mobin San’at, Aslaviyeh Phase 13, the Jasek Oil Well Project, and Kangan Phase 13 are among the companies whose workers have gone on strike.

Although state media have yet to publish any news of the strikes, ILNA, the Iranian Labour News Agency, released a report criticizing the low-wage employment contracts common in the oil industry. ISNA (Iranian Students’ News Agency), in another report that made no mention of the strikes, addressed various problems workers face in the current contracting system. The strikes, now a week old, continue.

Livestock and agriculture workers’ strike

With the Iranian oil workers’ strikes continuing to grow by the day, workers in the livestock industry in Yazd, Kerman, Fars, and Razavi Khorasan provinces joined the widespread job action by striking on Monday. In protest at falling milk prices even as the price of livestock feed remains high, they have been dumping the contents of milk containers onto the ground.

Also on Monday, farmers in Isfahan protested a lack of water and the drying up of the Zayanderud River, with clashes breaking out between the farmers and police. The farmers broke through the fences around the Isfahan Water Organization facility and tried to enter the complex, with the goal of getting more water into the Zayanderud River. The Isfahan farmers were the first group of protesters to use the slogan “Our enemy is right here, they lie to say it’s America” back in April.

IR leader says invalid votes are votes for the Islamic Republic system

Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, said yesterday that the invalid votes cast in the recent presidential elections were also votes for the Islamic Republic system. He insisted that people had come to the polls, but, not having seen their favorite among the candidates listed, had written in their own preferred candidate or cast a blank, “white vote.” According to Khamenei, both of these kinds of votes in fact indicate the people’s support for voting and for the Islamic Republic system.