The vicious oppression of the Muslim population in China is known the world over. Today, there are about 1.8 million Weegers in internment/concentration camps in China.
With such an oppressive policy toward its Muslim population, it begs the question why the Chinese government, for weeks prior to making the news of its COVID-19 epidemic public, had been sending convoys of Shiite Muslim clerical students (whose job it is to spread the same religion the Chinese government is suppressing so violently within China – Islam) to seminary schools in the city of Qom in Iran. Shortly after, it was conclusively proven that these Chinese clerics were the source of COVID-19 in Iran and that the city of Qom was the initial site and subsequently the epicenter of COVID-19 infections in Iran.
It is interesting to note the parallels between the Chinese government and the regime in Iran in manipulating COVID-19 to their fullest advantage: China to further its economic and geopolitical influence across the globe, and Khamenei to ensure the survival of his regime.
China, by intentionally not warning the international community of the true destructive potential of COVID-19 and by persistently providing misinformation and misleading data, has created an enormous advantage for itself. The Chinese government knew full well that in open and democratic societies such as Europe and the U.S., where individual liberties are respected and protected, it would be much harder to contain the spread of the virus. They also knew how rapidly and destructively the virus could spread merely by casual contact. Yet they deliberately withheld the truth from the rest of the world. And now they enjoy a tremendous advantage over the global community by being well ahead of the curve in both containment and economic recovery, thereby increasing their geopolitical and financial influence.
With respect to Iran, a similar approach has been applied, but most tragically against the country’s own population. One has only to examine the regime’s role in creating this epidemic disaster in Iran and how Khamenei and his administration have addressed it.
At first, Khamenei denied the existence of the contagion in Iran and insisted that Iranians partake in the annual comical circus called “the celebration of the anniversary of the revolution.” Next, he encouraged the population to pour into polling stations and participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Both events – the so-called anniversary “celebration” and the elections – failed miserably in terms of public support and were a humiliating defeat for Khamenei and his regime. When it became impossible to hide the truth, Khamenei personally forbade quarantining the city of Qom and the shutting down of shrines, mosques, and public places. The regime also dealt harshly with the whistleblowers who exposed the grim reality of the virus in Iran.
Despite the overwhelming and irrefutable evidence identifying China as the source of this pandemic, Khamenei accused the U.S. of waging a biological war against Iran by bioengineering COVID-19 and spreading it throughout Iran. He also refused to allow the team of physicians from “Doctors Without Borders” to enter Iran, claiming that they could be carrying specially engineered vaccines by the U.S. to specifically harm the Iranian population based on their genetic traits.
Analyzing the pattern of misinformation, mismanagement, and intentional lack of efforts to confront and contain this humanitarian disaster, one can only conclude that Khamenei and his regime are utilizing this epidemic disaster to their full advantage in three ways:
1. COVID-19 is a powerful deterrent against the assembly of people in large masses to protest against the government. Prior to this pandemic, Iran was a hotbed of unrest and revolt against the ruling regime. Protesters were rising daily in every corner of the land demanding change and it seemed that Khamenei’s regime was doomed. Since the COVID-19 epidemic disaster in Iran, Iranians are fighting for their lives, fighting to survive this virus both biologically and economically. The notion of a mass uprising seems to be a distant fantasy. The previously nascent uprising has been effectively diffused.
2. The regime is exploiting COVID-19 to eliminate its opposition, especially the prisoners of conscience and religious minorities whose ideologies pose the most serious threat to the regime. Ultimately, the regime can claim that, like the rest of the general population, a certain percentage of the prisoners inevitably perished from the natural course of the epidemic, rather than from the regime’s deliberate and criminal negligence toward their health and safety.
3. Finally, the regime is using COVID-19 as a form of bioterrorism and international political manipulation. Javad Zarif, the foreign minister, has been actively trying to use the fight against COVID-19 as a cover to obtain hefty loans from the IMF ($5 billion) and to lift the sanctions imposed on the regime. At the same time, he has obliquely threatened the international community by stating that if COVID-19 is not contained in Iran, it can become a much bigger international problem by the inevitable spread of the virus to other parts of the world. A preponderance of evidence demonstrates that the Islamic Republic’s policies were the primary cause of the spread of COVID-19 in the region as well as in parts of Europe. The regime has achieved this proliferation by regularly sending infected dual citizens and dual residents to their host countries. Currently, all neighboring countries, as well as most countries of the world, have closed their borders to Iran.
As U.S. officials have stated repeatedly, humanitarian and medical aid is available to Iranians. The problem is that, so far, all supplies and donations have been confiscated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC); the most promising drugs and equipment are kept for the heads of the regime and the rest are sold to the general population at a substantial premium, thereby creating a lucrative source of income for the IRGC. Additionally, U.S. officials have consistently declared that if Khamenei is sincere in his claim of hoping to provide assistance to the general population, he and his regime can tap into the almost half a trillion dollars of funds in their private accounts to purchase the sorely needed medical supplies, which they have yet to do.
Unfortunately, many prominent politicians in the West such as Chancellor Merkel of Germany and Senator Feinstein and Ms. Clinton in the U.S. have been advocating for the lifting of the sanctions against Iran. Chancellor Merkel recently reissued permits for Bank Melli (the regime’s bank, which is tied to terrorist funding activities) to operate in Germany. The reality is that these sanctions effectively target only the regime and its apparatus, and do not harm the general Iranian population. Any easing of the sanctions will be to the advantage of the regime and the direct detriment of the Iranian population. The loan that Mr. Zarif is seeking and the flow of funds from easing the sanctions will be used to fund the regime’s terrorist activities around the world and to conduct proxy wars in the region, thereby buying time for the regime to develop its atomic bomb.
I ask the international community to stand united in holding these two governments – the ruling party of China and the regime occupying Iran – accountable for this pandemic and the immeasurable suffering they have caused. We are all well aware that under such extraordinarily dire circumstances, the most vulnerable segments of society, such as religious minorities, prisoners of conscience, civil and human rights activists and the impoverished, are the first to bear the brunt of abuse. Holding the Chinese government and the occupying regime in Iran accountable is the very first step to prevent this subsequent and imminent disaster.
Hamid Gharagozloo is a representative of the International Organisation to Preserve Human Rights (IOPHR) in Washington, D.C.