Sanctions Relief Truly Won’t Help Iranian People

These are complex times, what with COVID-19 wreaking havoc on both communities and healthcare systems around the world. One place where the suffering is particularly high is Iran. Despite the latest data collected by the Iranian Resistance indicating that over 19,500 Iranians in 242 cities have lost their lives to the coronavirus infection as of Friday evening, April 6, 2020, the Iranian people know to expect nothing from the regime in the way of assistance.

Those who argue that international sanctions unfairly punish civilians think they do so with good intentions. However, they are not the ones forced to live under the repressive, iron-fisted policies of the mullahs’ dictatorship. Those who woefully ignore the rampant human rights abuses in Iran need only to look at what happens during “normal” times – when the regime routinely detains women for shedding the mandatory veil, or locks up those who peacefully protest the sub-standard or long-overdue wages paid to teachers and medical professionals.

Those who argue for lifting sanctions should look more closely at the regime’s behavior. There are countless acts of atrocities committed against Iranian civilians, many of which have been painstakingly documented by the NCRI Women’s Committee. Just last year, more than 1,500 innocent people were killed during the mid-November 2019 protests, including about 400 women and 17 teenagers. More were injured, detained, or killed during protests after the regime shot down a Ukrainian jetliner, killing all 176 passengers on board, in January 2020.

khamenei rouhani sanctions relief for COVID. Cartoon by NewsBlaze.
Khamenei and Rouhani request sanctions relief for COVID-19. Cartoon by NewsBlaze.

Today, with the global pandemic captivating the world’s attention, the Iranian regime hardly has any incentive to improve the conditions it has imposed on its own citizens. With the world economy on the brink of collapse, public attention is not focused on Iran, and the regime would relish any opportunity to increase its cashflow to continue its systematic repression of the Iranian people and funding of terrorism. The current worldwide emergency situation represents the perfect distraction. Given that the Iranian regime has one of the worst human rights records in the world, Tehran can hardly be trusted to become a bastion of responsibility toward its citizens.

Who Benefits From Lifted Sanctions?

Certainly not the average Iranian, and most certainly not Iranian women. Those in the medical community are already subjected to substandard equipment, tough working conditions, and outstanding compensation. This is not new; medical personnel have long complained about the unjust and unhealthy conditions in which they are forced to treat patients. Long before coronavirus was a household term, Iran’s medical capacities were well below international medical standards because the Iranian regime’s prominent interest was to funnel its economy into supporting the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and their notorious activities thus, leaving nothing for the people.

In the wake of the regime’s mismanagement of this crisis, the people of Iran have nowhere to seek help from. In many cities, they have taken action on their own, collecting cash and material support from the residents to disinfect the city.

Mullahs Keep Aid For Themselves

The aid provided by WHO and other countries has ended up in IRGC’s warehouses and allocated to special IRGC hospitals. Some of it is sold in the black market at exorbitant prices.

Therefore, the real beneficiary of a sanctions-free Iran is, in fact, the regime itself. We must keep in mind Iran’s recent history: according to the U.S. Department of State, “one billion Euros intended for medical supplies ‘disappeared’ and another 170 million dollars allocated for medical goods were instead spent on tobacco.” (Foreign Policy, March 31, 2020).

Notwithstanding “disappeared” funds, it is no secret that authoritarian regimes have no scruples when it comes to diverting money intended to help civilians. Iran is certainly no exception: one need only to question why the millions of dollars received from the Obama Administration to alleviate human suffering in Iran ended up supporting terrorist proxies and operations in Syria and Lebanon. None of it went to the people of Iran, despite that fact that over 60 million people continue to live under the poverty line.

Meanwhile, as many as 12 million people are at risk of starvation. Joblessness and gender-based violence are on the rise and continue to plague Iranian society. These conditions existed before the global coronavirus and will continue to exist long after it is cured, as long as this regime remains in power.

Sanctions Relief Will Not Help The People

While the debate over sanctions rages on, prison riots and protests are becoming more commonplace as COVID-19 continues to spread in the inhumane cells of the mullahs’ jails. One such protest took place in the women’s ward at the Urmia Central Prison, where, as of Saturday, March 28, some 200 women are on a hunger strike in the wake of the coronavirus-related death of fellow inmate Fatemeh Alizadeh. It should be noted that prison authorities failed to take action even after Ms. Alizadeh was in critical condition and complaining of symptoms matching those of the coronavirus. Following Ms. Alizadeh’s death, the other women prisoners reportedly refused to accept their lunch, throwing it on the floor and declaring their intent to go without food unless they were granted a temporary release. At current writing, several more women have died in prison, including two in Qarchak Prison.

The well-intended people calling for an end to sanctions against the Iranian dictatorship would do better to call for an end to human rights abuses and hold the Iranian regime accountable for such crimes against humanity.

Elham Zanjani
Elham Zanjani is a member of the Women’s Committee of the NCRI, the Iranian opposition to the theocratic mullahs’ government.