Sanctions-hit Iran gambles on partial Covid-19 lockdown exit

Iran has allowed some companies in the capital, Tehran and neighboring cities, to reopen on Saturday after weeks of foreclosure aimed at containing the worst epidemic of coronavirus in the Middle East.

Iran has been slow to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and has restrained from imposing blanket restrictions even after other countries in the region with far fewer cases have forced most companies to close. Iran has reported more than 80,000 confirmed cases and more than 5,000 deaths.

The partial reopening saw government offices working with a third of homeworkers. Schools, universities, restaurants, gymnasiums and shopping malls as well as the Tehran Grand Bazaar remained closed.

Traffic was heavy in Tehran early Saturday, the first day of the work week. Authorities authorized the reopening of businesses outside the capital a week ago.

Although coronavirus is highly contagious, Iranian leaders say they must take into account the economic consequences of quarantine measures, as the country struggles under severe sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump after withdrawing from the United States of the Iranian nuclear agreement of 2015.

“It is a difficult decision, it is a controversial decision, but it is clear that the Iranian government is doing it,” said Reza Sayah, a FRANCE 24 journalist from Tehran.

“In the past two weeks, the daily death toll from Covid-19 here in Iran has dropped and last week, for the first time, the number of deaths per day has dropped from three digits to two digits. Critics of the government have always been skeptical about the accuracy of these figures, but the government points to these statistics and suggests that they are about to take a turn in the fight against this epidemic, “said Sayah.

UN calls for release of political prisoners

UN human rights experts on Friday called on Iran to release political prisoners who may be vulnerable to infection in the country’s detention centers. Iran has temporarily released 100,000 prisoners, but still detains many convicts for security reasons, including several binationals.

Human rights groups claim that many binationals are political prisoners or are being held as currency for future negotiations with the West.

“We recognize the emergency in the Islamic Republic of Iran and the problems it faces in the fight against the pandemic, including the reported difficulties in accessing medical supplies due to the sanctions,” said the experts. of ONU. “Some people are at high risk for Covid-19 because of their age or underlying medical condition. We call on the authorities to release them immediately. “

Experts highlighted the cases of human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and human rights defenders Narges Mohammadi and Arash Sadeghi, as well as national doubles Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian-Swedish national; Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian-British-American national; and Kamran Ghaderi and Massud Mossaheb, two Iranian-Austrian nationals.

They said all seven had requested provisional release but had been rejected or had received no response.

Last month, Iran released the famous French academic Roland Marchal, an African expert who was arrested with his partner in Iran in June 2019.

In an interview with FRANCE 24 after his release, Marchal said that while he was in an Iranian prison, he realized that he was “just a bargain”.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)