Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
A former Iranian lawmaker became the latest high-profile casualty of the country’s coronavirus outbreak on Monday morning, making him the fifth current or former political figure to die from the virus.
Mohammad-Reza Rahchamani, 64, a reformist politician and founding member of Iran’s Solidarity Party, died from the virus in the Masih Daneshvari Hospital in Tehran, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported.
Rahchamani became at least the fifth high-profile casualty of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran, where over 7,000 infections have been reported and 237 deaths confirmed. However, as more and more political figures succumb to the virus, critics of the regime continue to claim that the real death toll is much higher than is being reported.
Iran’s coronavirus death toll is still just a fraction of the more than 3,000 people who have died in China, but it has suffered many more high-profile deaths than any other country:
- Farzad Tazari, the former deputy of the highly influential Revolutionary Guard Corp’s political department, died Monday.
- Fatemeh Rahbar, 55, a conservative lawmaker from the capital Tehran who was elected to Iran’s Parliament for the first time just last month, died on Saturday.
- Hossein Sheikholeslam, 68, a former deputy foreign minister who took part in the 1979 U.S. embassy hostage crisis, died on Friday.
- Mohammad Mirmohammadi, 71, a close adviser to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, died last Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the person leading the Iranian government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, Esmail Najar, confirmed on Monday that he has contracted the virus.
Najar has missed key coronavirus-related meetings in recent days after becoming sick, ISNA reported on Monday.
Last Tuesday, the speaker of Parliament said 23 MPs had tested positive for the virus, including a number of vice presidents and advisers to Khamenei, as well as Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi.
Iran has been criticized for its lack of transparency and many experts have predicted that the real infection rate and death toll are much higher than being reported.
Over the weekend, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an Iranian political organization based in France, held an online conference featuring Iranian physicians, medical experts, and nurses from 19 different locations to discuss the start and spread of the virus,
“We Iranians are about to lose many of our friends and families to this epidemic. Iranians are fighting with two enemies. One is COVID-19 and the second is the Iranian regime. Transparency is key to fighting epidemics. The regime is preventing news of the epidemic from being broadcast,” Sina Dashti, an infectologist from Sweden.
Some speaking at the conference put the real death toll at over 2,000.
Adding to the confusion was a comment from Mohammad Hossein Ghorbani, the health ministry representative in Gilan province in the north of the country, that the death toll in that province alone was over 200.
Iran has belatedly attempted to control the outbreak by closing schools and universities, suspending major cultural and sporting events and reducing working hours across the country to slow the contagion, which has now spread to all of its 31 provinces.
Cover: Medics treat a patient infected with the new coronavirus, at a hospital in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, March 8, 2020. With the approaching Persian New Year, known as Nowruz, officials kept up pressure on people not to travel and to stay home. Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour, who gave Iran's new casualty figures Sunday, reiterated that people should not even attend funerals. (AP Photo/Mohammad Ghadamali)