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Hundreds Of Activists In Iran Blast Khamenei's Ban On Western Vaccines

More than 570 civic, political, university and trade union activists in Iran have issued a statement condemning the Islamic Republic’s “false” claims to produce Covid-19 vaccines as well as the ban on importing Western vaccines by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

The activists have also voiced support for five attorneys and activists who were arrested on August 14 to prevent them from taking legal action against Khamenei and other officials for mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic response and delay in mass vaccination. Authorities have released Maryam Afrafaraz, a civic activist, but four others are still in detention.

Khamenei banned the purchase of American and British vaccines in January, when these were the only internationally approved vaccines. He based his ban on a conspiracy theory that the West can experiment drugs on Iranians, while Iran is totally dependent on the import of many medicines manufactured by American and British companies.

Khamenei and his officials also claimed that Iran was developing its own “safe and effective” vaccines and most of the population would be inoculated by mid-summer. The claim has not materialized, without any clear explanation of where the vaccine development stands.

Meanwhile, a huge surge in infections has hit Iran since early July fueled by the Delta variant of the virus, creating a serious health crisis and pushing hospitals to the breaking point. The daily death rate has increased fivefold, while two million more people have tested positive since early July, bringing the total number of cases to nearly 5 million.

In August, Iran also passed the 100,000 mark in Covid deaths, but experts and even some government officials say the real number could be three times higher.

The statement by 575 activists of all walks of life was published on Saturday. The signatories argue that the health ministry and 200 members of parliament obeyed Khamenei’s ban on Western vaccines, that was partially rescinded in August showing that it was a political decision without any scientific basis. In the meantime, thousands of lives were unnecessarily lost.

According to government figures, 40,000 people have died since April and 20,000 since early July. This is the period when many other nations were aggressively pushing mass vaccination to protect their populations, while Iran inoculated less than five percent of its 85-million people.

The statement says that while in recent months new infections and deaths have decreased in many countries because of vaccination, Iran has faced its worst pandemic cycle.

Ten prominent Iranian activists in a letter to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, and other international rights organizations on Saturday urged urgent action on the current Iran Covid crisis, including requiring the Iranian government to import vaccines.

The statement by 575 activists went further demanding legal pursuit of officials who have mishandled the response to the pandemic in an unprofessional manner, without adhering to scientific guidelines. To continue on this path, the signatories said means to allow the disaster to deepen as new strains of the virus emerge. They also said that the absence of an independent judiciary means it would be next to impossible to prosecute wrongdoing.

Instead of pursuing officials who may be guilty of negligence, however, judicial officials decided to arrest five attorneys and activists two weeks ago, the statement says.

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