New statistics from the National Organization for Civil Registration show that between March 21-July 21, 91,000 more Iranians died compared to the same period last year. The official number of coronavirus deaths announced by Iran’s Ministry of Health until the end of October is around 35,000.
Iran was the second country in the world after China where the coronavirus spread, and full-fledged epidemic began in mid-February. First, the government dowplayed the threat to public health and refused to put strong measures in place. In the following months, many officials and lawmakers have argued that the official infection and death numbers announced by the government are far less than the actual Covid toll.
While the official statistic from the National Organization for Civil Registration shows that in the first four months of the current Iranian year (March 21,2020-March 20, 2021) there have been 91,000 more deaths compared to the same period last year, the official coronavirus death toll showed only 15,000 coronavirus deaths in that period of time. Meaning even considering the 15,000 coronavirus deaths, there were still over 76,000 more deaths compared to the first fourth months in 2019.
Iran also does not publish a geographical breakdown of its Covid numbers, making it hard to track the accuracy of health ministry's figures.
Hamshahri Online wrote that the number of deaths in the first fourth months of this year shows that the real death toll of coronavirus could be much more than the official reports; even over 2.5 times or according to one health official, up to five times higher.
Unconfirmed Report Says Top Iran Nuclear Official Assassinated
A hardliner news website in Iran, Raja News, has reported that a senior Revolutionary Guard official with a major role in the country’s nuclear program was assassinated today north of the capital, Tehran. The incident has not been officially confirmed.
The spokesman of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Behruz Kamalvandi told ISNA news website that “No incident has happened to any of our country’s nuclear scientists” and all scientists “are in full health”.
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was the head of the New Defense Research Organization (NDRO), with the Persian acronym Sepand. Recently the opposition group Mojahedin Khalq had reported that NDRO was operating two sites for the purpose of building a nuclear weapon.
Reports in the past have mentioned Fakhrizadeh as the “mysterious” man of Iran’s nuclear program and a top official directing nuclear efforts. He is sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council. Reports also have indicated he was a former Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) commander.
More details to follow…
Ahmadinejad Says Iran Hijab Rules Should Follow Views Of the Majority
Former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has suggested that rules over hijab should reflect the views of a majority of Iranians. In a video debate with conservative commentator Mehdi Nassiri, Ahmadinejad said: “If parliament has passed a law and the majority of the people reject it, can you say I will enforce it no matter what?”
Compulsory hijab has been enforced without formal legislation since the 1979 Revolution. In recent years, many women have been defying ‘proper hijab’ with ever loosening head coverings and tighter manteaus. Some have removed their headscarves in protest against the rules, and social-media clips show women confronting clergymen and religious conservatives in public when told to fix their ‘bad hijab.’
Ahmadinejad was the first – and so far, the only – president in the Islamic Republic not to be a cleric and had at times a difficult relationship with senior clergy, who regarded him as an upstart. Against the wishes of many ayatollahs, Ahmadinejad championed the right of women to enter sports stadiums. While Ahmadinejad known as a foreign-policy hawk partly through his enthusiasm for Iran’s nuclear program, his closest associate Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei floated notions of reconciliation with Israel. In his second term, Ahmadinejad openly defied Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and once he left office in 2013 he issued still more critical video messages.
The Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog barred Mashaei from the 2013 election, when Ahmadinejad was ineligible to stand for a third consecutive term, and in 2017 it barred Ahmadinejad himself. There has been speculation that the former president may try again for the presidential election in June 2021 when President Hassan Rouhani will be ineligible.
Business Representative: ‘Iran Factories Working At Minimum Level’
Most factories are at their minimum work schedules as industrial production has declined, a member of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce has told the Iranian Labour News Agency, ILNA.
Nima Basiri-Tehrani said that the combination of US sanctions and the Covid19 pandemic had led to reduced production across the board, with some exceptions, such as health products. Basiri-Tehrani, who is the deputy of the Chamber’s industry commission, said that while the pandemic had hurt industries in other countries, their governments had been proactive in assisting companies in various ways. In Iran, he said, the industrial sector had not benefited from government’s attention.
Basiri-Tehrani complained there had been no tax relief and that instead the government had insisted on collecting full taxes even as tax revenue increased along with rising prices.
Iran has been suffering from high inflation since 2018 when President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement and imposed tough sanctions. Price rises have accelerated in the past few months. – Consumer price inflation reached 41 percent in 2019, and is projected at 30.5 percent for 2020 by the International Monetary Fund.
Basiri-Tehrani said that the fall in production was evident in small factories in industrial parks, as companies lacked the capital to expand production and faced rising prices of raw materials. He added that banks were acting with extreme caution and that one lending institution had told him it had received a government directive not to issue loans.
The IMF currently projects a 5 percent contraction in Iran’s GDP in 2020 followed by a rise of 3.2 percent in 2021. In October, the World Bank noted that the Covid pandemic had “amplified the impact of economic sanctions and existing structural imbalances in Iran’s economy.” The bank forecast “weak” recovery in 2021-2 driven by the non-oil sector.
Iran Lawmaker Claims Parliament Reviewing 25-Year Agreement With China
A member of the Iranian parliament’s presidium, Ahmad Amir-Abadi Farahani says lawmakers are reviewing the 25-year agreement between Iran and China, which Iran has been publicizing since July.
Farahani said the 25-year contract between Iran and China is finalized and the members of parliament are now reviewing the text of the agreement. Farahani did not offer more explanation about the matter.
His comments come at a time when the government is yet to send a bill to the parliament regarding the much-touted "strategic" deal with China.
Iran is in an economic crisis due to US sanctions, having lost most its banking ties with the world and its oil exports. Any major economic or trade deal would be a break for the isolated country. However, China has been generally observing US sanctions, reducing trade with Iran.
According to a draft of the contract that Iran International has received, the Islamic Republic officials have invited China to invest in all sectors in Iran, including industry, communications, agriculture, security, financial, oil, and energy in return for China buying Iranian oil.
The publication of some of the articles of this contract has caused a huge uproar among Iranians in recent months. But the Islamic Republic officials have denied the reports and said the agreement has not been finalized between the two countries.
So far, the Chinese side has not officially acknowledged that there is a 25-year strategic deal in place, but Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif who initially denied the existence of such a contract has said in recent months that the idea of a comprehensive cooperation agreement between the two countries was first discussed during a 2016 meeting in Tehran between China's President Xi and Ali Khamenei.
Latest Suspected Israeli Airstrike In Syria Kills 19 Pro-Iran Fighters
Airstrikes suspected to have been carried out by Israel killed 19 Iran-backed fighters in war-torn Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human rights, a war monitor reported on Thursday.
For a third time this week airstrikes generally attributed to Israel hit positions of Iran-linked militia near the town of Albu Kamal, Deir Ezzor province, the scene of numerous air attacks in recent months.
Israel rarely acknowledged its airstrikes in Syria but it is generally believed it has conduct hundreds of such attacks in recent years to inflict casualties and damage on Iranian and Iran-backed fighters in Syria. Israeli officials have repeatedly said they will not tolerate the entrenchment of the Iranian military in the country.
Two days earlier, Israel did take responsibility for an airstrike near Damascus after what it said was an attempt by Iranian forces to plant IEDs inside the Israeli border in the Golan Heights.
Another attack in Albu Kamal on Saturday killed at least 14 Iranian-backed fighters reportedly from Afghanistan and Iraq.
The latest attack came after the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan called on the Security Council on November 25 to undertake measures to remove the Iranian military from Syria.
Iran has not overtly responded to repeated Israeli attacks, as it finds itself constrained by US sanctions and has to navigate a delicate diplomatic line with Russia holding the upper hand in Syria.
Tehran Residential Prices Double Over A Year, Rents Rise 30%
Residential real estate prices have more than doubled in Tehran in the past year, rising 118 percent according to figures published by the Central Bank of Iran (CBI). A square meter (equivalent to 11 square feet) now costs an average 270 million rials, or slightly more than $1,000, after rising 1.8 percent in the last month.
Home prices have gone up in Iran over the last three years along with the rising value of hard currencies, such as the US dollar and the euro, against the rial. The media and experts have suggested Iranians have turned to real estate as a way of protecting capital in a fragile and unpredictable economic environment. Prices over the year have climbed with the dollar while remaining stable if calculated in hard currency.
For less well-off Iranians with incomes in local currency, buying even a small apartment has become almost impossible. Rising real-estate prices have also pushed up rents by nearly 30 percent in Tehran according to the CBI, imposing an immediate impact on fixed-income citizens, who must often spend over half their earnings on housing costs.
Government decrees that rents cannot go up more than 25 percent a year in Tehran have been swamped by market forces. Media and citizens have reported more cases of people renting rooftops as a place to sleep, and others sleeping in their cars for want of any alternative.
At the other end of the social scale, with prices climbing around 135 percent in a year, more up-market Tehran apartments are selling at around 550 million rials (equivalent to $2,000) a square meter.
Identity Of Men Released For Australian Prisoner Confirmed As Iran Bombers
Thailand said Thursday it transferred three Iranians involved in a botched 2012 bomb plot back to Tehran, as Iran released an Australian academic who was imprisoned for more than two years on spying charges.
Thai officials declined to call it a swap and Iran referred to the men as “economic activists." But the arrangement acknowledged Thursday freed academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert and saw the three men linked to a wider bomb plot targeting Israeli diplomats return home to a hero’s welcome.
Tehran long has denied being behind the 2012 bomb plot and is hoping for tensions with the U.S. to ease under President-elect Joe Biden.
The bombers wore Iranian flags draped over their shoulders, their faces largely obscured by black baseball caps and surgical masks. It was a sharp contrast to other prisoner exchanges Iran has trumpeted in the past, in which television anchors repeatedly said their names and broadcasters aired images of them reuniting with their families.
Although Iran has withheld the names of the three men, it probably hopes release of foreign nationals it holds on trumped-up charges can increase the chances for the incoming US administration of President-elect Joe Biden to ease US sanctions. Israeli officials declined to immediately comment to the Associated Press on the release.
The plane that carried the men from Bangkok to Iran had a tail number linking it to an Australian private air carrier called Skytraders, which describes itself as a “principal provider of air services to government.” An employee at the company declined to comment when reached by the AP.
Thai police discovered the three Iranians' plot in 2012 when an accidental explosion blew apart their rented Bangkok villa.
With reporting by AP
Rouhani Says Iran's Enemies Lost And Will Soon Be 'In The Dustbin Of History'
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani referring to the Trump administration Thursday said that those who imposed sanction on Iran “were disgracefully defeated…and soon will be dumped into the dustbin of history.”
Rouhani in recent speeches has sounded optimistic that US sanctions will soon disappear with President-elect Joe Biden’s administration assuming power in January. Biden and his advisors have indicated that the new administration will return to the Iran nuclear deal, which could mean lifting economic sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump when he withdrew from the accord in 2018.
Rouhani said that Iranians resisted “the economic war” for three years and have come out victorious. Iran demonstrated that it has a “big and resistant economy” due to the perseverance of its people.
Iranians pressed by a weak economy came out in large numbers to protest in December 2017, before the imposition of US sanctions. Intermittent protests continued in 2018 and nationwide unrest broke out again in November 2019, when security forces killed up to 1,500 protesters according to Reuters.
Prices of essential commodities have soared since 2018 as the national currency has lost more value and the state-controlled, oil-reliant economy has been unable to deal with the pressures of sanctions.
Rouhani who was speaking during a ceremony related to Iran’s petrochemical industry told maintained that Iran enjoys a unique geopolitical position, and no one can “eliminate Iran” in the region or the world. He added that a promising future for Iran is also important for the world because it can provide the needs of the region and beyond much cheaper.
Canadian MP Calls On International Community To Hold Iran's Government Accountable
Iranian-Canadian member of Canada's parliament Ali Ehsasi condemned the Islamic Republic of Iran for its “abhorrent” human rights record and urged the international community to hold Iran's regime accountable.
In his speech at the parliament on Wednesday, mentioning the bloody crackdown of November 2019 nationwide uprising in Iran, MP Ehsasi said: “Peaceful protests were met by a brutal government crackdown, leading to the death of over 300 innocent civilians, and dozens upon dozens of arbitrary arrests.”
The Islamic Republic government has not officially announced the number of those killed or arrested, but independent estimates by human rights organizations and by Reuters say between 400 to 1,500 people were killed by security forces in the streets and up to 8,000 arrested.
“Two months later, flight 752, carrying 176 passengers and crew was mercilessly shot down over the skies of Tehran by two missiles fired by the Iranian [Islamic] Revolutionary Guards Corps”, Ehsasi added. “This abhorrent pattern is further reflected in the unjust treatment of iconic Nasrin Sotoudeh, the human rights lawyer, and the horrific execution of Navid Afkari, a 27-year-old wrestling champion.
He continued: “These atrocities by the Iranian regime should not be ignored. No Iranian deserves to live under constant repression, day after day, week after week, and year after year.”
Ehsasi went on to thank the government of Canada for sponsoring the UN resolution to condemn “the flagrant disregard for human rights” by the Iranian regime.
He concluded his speech by calling on the international community never to look the other way and to hold the regime of Iran accountable, and to demand that the government of Iran “immediately end terrorizing its own people”.
WSJ: European Powers Won't Push Biden For Swift US Return To Iranian Nuclear Deal
The Wall Street Journal stated on Wednesday that according to senior diplomats, the European members of the Iran nuclear deal -- France, Germany, UK -- are in no hurry to press the Biden administration to return to the nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but they do expect him to reduce tensions with Tehran.
The article states: While European countries remain supportive of the 2015 nuclear deal, officials from France, Britain, and Germany—countries that helped negotiate the accord—say a full return to the agreement might not be achievable or even desirable before Iran’s presidential elections in June.
The WSJ goes on to say that while concerns are increasing about Iran’s nuclear research and activities, including enrichment, which the IAEA has declared to be exceeding limits set by the agreement, “the diplomats say they will urge a swift agreement in the first months of a Biden administration next spring to offer some easing of sweeping U.S. sanctions on Tehran in return for steps by Iran toward reversing its expanding nuclear activities. The hope would be to provide some tangible economic benefits to Iran before June’s vote, creating an incentive for a new Iranian government to pursue diplomacy.”
WSJ writes that Iran would likely have to reduce its growing stockpile of enriched uranium, which is currently 12 times the limit permitted under the accord and also put a swift stop to its nuclear research.
The Trump administration left Iran's nuclear deal in 2018, followed by imposing severe sanctions on the country as part of the "maximum pressure" campaign to force Iran to negotiate a better deal.
Joe Biden has expressed a willingness to negotiate a better deal with Iran and return to the accord.
US To Sanction 5 Chinese And Russian Entities With Ties To Iran
As the US government increases efforts to ramp up the pressures on Tehran before the new administration comes to power, Special Representative on Iran and Venezuela Elliot Abrams announced upcoming sanctions on five Russian and Chinese entities with ties to Iran.
The sanctioned companies are Russia-based Nilco Group, Elecon, and Aviazapchast, and the China-based Chengdu Best New Materials Company Ltd, and Zibo Elim Trade Company Ltd.
Speaking at a virtual Beirut Institute event, Abrams said Washington will continue to impose more sanctions on Iran in the upcoming weeks through December and January until the transfer of power to the new administration.
“We will have next week, and the week after, and the week after - all through December and January, there will be sanctions that deal with arms, that deal with weapons of mass destruction, that deal with human rights. ... So this will continue on for another couple of months, right until the end,” Abrams said.
Abrams stated that the goal of maximum pressure was always to create leverage for negotiation, and said the potential Biden administration will have enough leverage for the expected negotiation next year.
He argued: “We think the Biden administration has a great opportunity because there is so much leverage on Iran through the sanctions. If we discard the leverage we have, it would really be tragic and foolish. But if we use it there is a chance I think for constructive agreement that addresses all of these problems.”