The Coronavirus is credited for killing the ‘butcher’ of Tehran, named for his role in brutally suppressing civilian protests, just after the death of Expediency Council member Mohammad Mirmohammadi on Monday.
– Iran’s percentage of deaths to infections, 3.3%, is much higher than other countries.
Another senior Iranian official has been killed by the coronavirus, Iran’s Tasnim News Agency reported on Wednesday, a day after Iran put its armed forces on alert to assist health officials in battling the virus, which has killed at least 77 people in an outbreak that has sickened top officials and pushed even supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei into wearing disposable gloves while trying to reassure the nation.
Mohammad Haj Abolghasemi, 71, was hospitalized in Tehran a few days ago and died on Tuesday, state media reported.
Abolghasemi was an intelligence officer and battalion commander in the Basij – the volunteer paramilitary wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps used for internal security and other tasks, such as violent suppression of civilian protests.
Relatives of Abolghasemi told news outlets outside of Iran that he was apparently infected with the virus while on duty, after local authorities failed to issue proper warnings about avoiding large gatherings or physical contact.
As stated, Abolghasemi, was a senior commander in the Basij and served as an Iranian intelligence officer after the Iran-Iraq War.
Websites affiliated with Iran’s exiled opposition celebrated Abolghasemi’s death, calling him a “butcher” and a “hangman” due to the role of the Basij in brutally suppressing popular countrywide protests over the past year, in which hundreds of Iranian civilians were killed.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday issued a rare confession that “the coronavirus has spread to nearly all parts of the country.”
Even as government officials sit yards away from each other at meetings now in an effort to stop its spread, the virus is ravaging both the country’s civilian leadership and its Shiite theocracy. A top emergency official and at least 23 members of parliament reportedly contracted the virus and now suffer from the COVID-19 illness it causes.
There are now over 2,540 cases of the new virus across the Mideast, with 2,336 in Iran alone. Of those outside Iran in the region, most link back to the Islamic republic.
Experts worry Iran’s percentage of deaths to infections, now around 3.3%, is much higher than other countries, suggesting the number of infections in Iran may be far greater than current figures show. Meanwhile, a gloved Khamenei sought to minimize the virus while praising the doctors and nurses combating the outbreak. He urged the nation to pray.
“This disaster, in our opinion, is not such a big disaster, there have been and there are bigger disasters than this,” Khamenei said. “Of course I don’t want to downplay the issue, but let’s not exaggerate it much either. Something has happened, it will exist in the country for a time, which hopefully will be short, and then it will go away.”
As cases rise exponentially daily, it appears like the virus won’t be going away soon.
Iran stands alone in how the virus has affected its government, even compared to hard-hit China, the epicenter of the outbreak. Worldwide, the virus has infected 90,000 people and caused 3,100 deaths.
The death of Expediency Council member Mohammad Mirmohammadi on Monday makes him the highest-ranking official within Iran’s leadership to be killed by the virus. State media referred to him as a confidant of Khamenei.
The virus earlier killed Hadi Khosroshahi, Iran’s former ambassador to the Vatican, as well as a recently elected member of parliament. Ahmad Tuyserkani, an adviser to Iran’s judiciary chief, died Monday night from the virus, semiofficial media reported.
Those sick include Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar, better known as “Sister Mary,” the English-speaking spokeswoman for the students who seized the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and sparked the 444-day hostage crisis, state media reported. Also sick is Iraj Harirchi, the head of an Iranian government task force on the coronavirus who tried to downplay the virus before falling ill.
On Tuesday, lawmaker Abdolreza Mesri told Iranian state television’s Young Journalists Club program that 23 members of parliament had the coronavirus. He urged all lawmakers to avoid the public.
Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency also reported that Pirhossein Koulivand, head of the country’s emergency services, had come down with the new virus. It said he was undergoing treatment.
In the last week, Iran offered temporary furloughs to over 54,000 prisoners, nearly a third of all prisoners held in the country, the judiciary’s Mizan news agency reported. That’s as activists have raised concerns over the possible spread of the new virus in Iran’s prisons.
Officials previously said they had plans for 300,000 soldiers and members of the Basij to sanitize public areas, direct traffic and trace contacts that sick people had with others. The IRGC also has been spraying down streets in major Iranian cities.
“Whatever helps public health and prevents the spread of the disease is good and what helps to spread it is sin,” Khamenei said at an annual tree-planting ceremony. He had never worn gloves at the ceremony in recent years.
Also on Tuesday, the advocacy group NetBlocks said Wikipedia’s Farsi-language website appeared to be disrupted in Iran for around 24 hours. NetBlocks described the disruption as being nationwide, saying its technical testing suggests the online encyclopedia is being blocked by the same mechanism used to block Twitter and Facebook. Those social media websites have been banned since Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election and Green Movement protests.
The disruption ended Tuesday afternoon, without authorities acknowledging it.
The disruption raises fears of Iran potentially shutting off the internet entirely again, as it did for a week during economic protests in November. Iran separately has created its own so-called “halal” net of government-approved websites.
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