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The Coordination Council of Iranian Teachers’ Trade Associations has released a statement calling the government’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic tantamount to “mass murder.” The statement declares that Iran’s COVID casualties are “victims of tyranny, recklessness, and of course, mafia interests,” which “profit hugely from domestic vaccine production and the import of expensive medications.” Iran’s official COVID death rate (which multiple experts in the country say reflects a gross undercount) currently stands at 1,278 per million—two-and-a-half times the death rate in Iraq, Iran’s neighbor to the west, which has an almost identical GDP per capita; 11 times the death rate in Pakistan, Iran’s much poorer neighbor to the east.

In December 2020, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei barred US- and British-developed vaccines from Iran, though a few million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine were eventually imported under the strained rationale that Cambridge-headquartered AstraZeneca is a “Swedish company.” Two domestically produced vaccines, while still in clinical trials, received emergency use authorization in June: COVIranBarekat, developed by the state-owned Shifa Pharmed Industrial Group, and Pasteurcovac, the product of a collaboration between the Pasteur Institute of Iran and Cuba’s Finlay Institute of Vaccines.

The educators’ statement also protested the incarceration of six lawyers who intended to bring officials responsible for mishandling the pandemic to account, asserting, “These lawyers’ case is the case of the majority of the Iranian people. We demand their immediate, unconditional release . . . and we emphasize that the perpetrators and decision-makers who have shaped the situation we have today, wherever they are, must be held accountable, and if they are find guilty, they must be punished.”

On August 14, six lawyers who had planned to pursue cases against individual officeholders culpable in the government’s failings in response to the crisis were arrested. Four remain in jail: Mostafa Nili, Arash Keikhosrow, Mohammadreza Faqihi, and Mehdi Mahmoudian. Leila Heidari was released after one day and, according to Radio Farda, Maryam Efrafaraz was released on August 29 with a bail of 500 million tomans (about $120,000).

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