Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

People wear face masks as a precaution against the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak after deaths and new confirmed cases revealed in Qom, Iran on March 17, 2020.

People wear face masks as a precaution against the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak after deaths and new confirmed cases revealed in Qom, Iran on March 17, 2020. Fatima Masumeh Shrine is closed for visitors to prevent the spread of the virus. (Photo: Fatemah Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

As Coronavirus Death Toll Continues to Rise in Iran, Global Calls Mount for US to Lift 'Immoral' Sanctions

"Actively denying an entire country medicine and humanitarian goods and continuing to pummel their economy in midst of global pandemic is the height of 'malign behavior' in my book."

Jessica Corbett

As the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak continues to rise in Iran, one of the world's most impacted countries, global pressure is mounting on the Trump administration to ease economic sanctions that Iranian officials and other critics charge has hampered the government's ability to manage the public health crisis.

In response to the latest COVID-19 figures out of Iran, American journalist Glenn Greenwald declared in a tweet Tuesday that "strangling Iran with sanctions, [which] has the direct effect of preventing them from providing services to sick and dying people, is monstrous."

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that "roughly nine out of 10 cases in the Middle East come from the Islamic Republic, which has reported over 16,000 people infected and at least 988 deaths amid fears that cases may still be underreported." Globally, the infections have topped 185,000 and more than 7,300 people have died.

"Although Iran has one of the Mideast's best medical services, its hospitals appear to be overwhelmed and authorities have asked for 172 million masks from abroad," according to the AP. "It also has asked the International Monetary Fund for $5 billion, the first such loan for Iran since 1962."

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who last week accused the United States of "medical terrorism," took to Twitter Tuesday to argue that abiding by Washington's sanctions is "immoral" and urge other countries around the world to disregard them. Ariel Gold of the U.S.-based peace group CodePink echoed his call.

Gold and CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin wrote for Common Dreams Friday that by the time the COVID-19 cases appeared in Iran "the country's economy, including its healthcare system, had already been devastated by U.S. sanctions."

As Gold and Benjamin explained:

The reimposition of sanctions after the Trump administration's withdrawal from the nuclear deal in 2018 has had a devastating impact on the economy and on the lives of ordinary Iranians. The Iranian currency, the rial, lost 80 percent of its value. Food prices doubled, rents soared, and so did unemployment. The decimation of Iran's economy, reducing the sale of oil from a high of 2.5 million barrels a day in early 2018 to about 250,000 barrels today, has left the government with scant resources to cover the enormous costs of dealing with direct medical treatment for patients suffering from the coronavirus, as well as supporting workers who are losing their jobs and helping businesses going bankrupt.

Humanitarian aid—food and medicine—was supposed to be exempt from sanctions. But that hasn't been the case. Shipping and insurance companies have been unwilling to risk doing business with Iran, and banks have not been able or willing to process payments.

They noted that "even before Iran was unable to procure enough testing kits, respiratory machines, antiviral medicines, and other supplies to slow the spread of the coronavirus and save lives, Iranians were having a hard time getting access to life-saving medications." Although the U.S. Treasury Department announced in late February that it would allow certain humanitarian trade transactions to go through Iran's central bank, Gold and Benjamin called that "far too little far too late."

"The Iranian government is not without blame," Gold and Benjamin added. "It grossly mishandled the beginning of the outbreak, downplaying the danger, putting out false information, and even arresting individuals who raised alarms." Still, CodePink members and others continue to demand an end to U.S. sanctions.

Jamal Abdi, president of the U.S.-based National Iranian American Council, tweeted Monday that "actively denying an entire country medicine and humanitarian goods and continuing to pummel their economy in midst of global pandemic is the height of 'malign behavior' in my book." He also shared a Reuters report on U.S. sanctions.

Citing unnamed U.S. officials and diplomats, Reuters reported Monday that despite Iran's ongoing humanitarian crisis and growing concern from the international community, the Trump administration is unlikely to grant broad relief from sanctions, particularly given the president's "maximum pressure" strategy with Iran.

Reuters noted that China—the country where the outbreak began and that has been hardest hit by the crisis—is among the countries aiding Iran with its response to COVID-19 and pressuring Trump to immediately lift sanctions. China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted Monday that "continued sanction on Iran is against humanitarianism and hampers Iran's epidemic response and delivery of humanitarian aid by the U.N. and other organizations."

In a Monday statement reported on by the Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency, the Russian Foreign Ministry also called on the U.S. to provide immediate relief, arguing that "the global pandemic is not a time for settling geopolitical accounts, especially those that have no basis, invented in Washington for the purpose of satisfying their own ambitions."

"Illegal unilateral U.S. sanctions, imposed since May 2018 as part of the 'maximum pressure' campaign, are a powerful obstacle to effective fight against the infection. The reason for the many victims, caused by it, lies not only in the disease itself, but also in the fact that the U.S., purposefully hinder the resistance [to the coronavirus]," the Russian statement added. "Millions of Iranian citizens were cut off from the possibility of purchasing necessary medical supplies, no matter how hard Washington tried to distort it. The anti-human policy of the U.S. provokes deep regret, alarm, and serious concern."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Senators Set to Leave Town for 10-Day Recess Without Action on Gun Violence Crisis

"How many more children, mothers, and fathers need to be murdered in cold blood before the Senate has the guts to ban assault weapons and take on the NRA?" asked Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Jake Johnson ·

Scientists to BlackRock Vice Chairman: New Fossil Fuel Development 'Incompatible' With 1.5°C

"The only responsible course of action is to do everything in our power to stop fossil fuel expansion and further emissions."

Jessica Corbett ·

Goldman Prize Awarded to Activists Who Showed Nature's 'Amazing Capability to Regenerate'

"While the many challenges before us can feel daunting, and at times make us lose faith, these seven leaders give us a reason for hope and remind us what can be accomplished in the face of adversity."

Julia Conley ·

Faith Leaders Call for Federal Election Monitors in Georgia to Protect Black Voters

"It is imperative that our election this November is monitored to preserve ballot integrity and ensure ballot security."

Brett Wilkins ·

'Inaction Is Bought': Here Are the Receipts on NRA's Purchase of GOP

"The issue is money in politics," said Nina Turner after the nation's latest mass killing of students and teachers. Right-wing lawmakers are "allowing children to die because of the gun lobby."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo