On March 29, 2020, a group of 100 Iranian academics and political and social activists published a letter holding Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei chiefly responsible for the COVID-19 epidemic becoming a national disaster. The letter was posted on the Kalame.com website, identified with the supporters of Green Movement leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has been under house arrest since 2011 for criticizing Khamenei and other regime officials for their oppression of the Green Movement protests and for falsifying the 2009 presidential elections.
The signatories of the letter list a series of failures for which they hold Khamenei and the regime officials directly responsible, including concealing information about the coronavirus outbreak from the public and failing to take measures to curb the spread of the disease, out of political and religious considerations. Instead of acting to save the Iranian people, they state, Iran’s sole leader, Khamenei, explains the situation using conspiracy theories about bio-terror and demons who assist Iran’s enemies, and even prevents the people from receiving American or other humanitarian aid, while he and other regime officials do have access to medical treatment. The signatories also accuse President Rouhani of being complicit in the disaster by cooperating with Khamenei in inciting and attributing the crisis to an enemy plot.
The regime’s financial and media apparatuses, which Khamenei controls, add the signatories, are not being used to serve the people but only the small hedonistic sector of regime henchmen. The large funds serve the regime’s project of exporting the revolution; the security apparatuses, who put down even the slightest protest, fail to follow the guidelines of the medical experts and minimize public movement in order to restrain the spread of the disease, while the broadcasting authority and media hide information from the public and even blame the public itself for the situation.
Criticism of the regime’s handling of the coronavirus crisis was also expressed by Parvaneh Salahshouri, a member of the outgoing Majlis, in a March 15 interview with the Jahan-i Sanat daily. She accused the authorities of hiding the truth about the epidemic from the public, refusing to take measures to limit its spread from the outset, evading responsibility and circulating conspiracy theories blaming Iran’s enemies, the U.S. and Israel, for the epidemic instead of helping the people.
The following are the main points of the academics’ letter condemning Khamenei and of MP Salahshouri’s interview.
The 100 Academics Protest: Khamenei, You Are Responsible For This National Disaster
The March 29, 2020 academics' letter stated:
"Mr. Khamenei, you are the No. 1 culprit in the COVID-19 pandemic becoming a national disaster!
"According to senior staff in Iran's Department of Health, one person is infected with the coronavirus every minute, while every 10 minutes, someone dies from the virus. Iran's doctors, as well as the heads of the World Health Organization, estimate that the number of officially recognized deaths [in Iran] is much smaller than the true number. The evidence suggests we are facing a national disaster.
"Everyone now knows that the initial obfuscation by the regime and its security forces robbed the Iranian people of their chance to curtail this dangerous virus. Everyone knows the facts of how the lives of Iranian citizens were sacrificed, irresponsibly and inhumanely, in service of the regime's political interests – both within the country, as in the February 11 [Revolution Day] parade, the [February 21] Majlis elections, and the failure to quarantine the city of Qom [the epicenter of the virus' spread because of its long-standing connection with China], as well as outside the country, as in the China policy [allowing Mahan Air flights to continue even after the scope of the pandemic became known]. All these were terrible blows to us, the citizens of Iran. Everyone knows that the regime's irresponsible handling of the reactionary traditions contributed to the accelerated spread of this virus, etc.
"We now bear witness as the regime's most powerful and senior [official, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei], the man who makes all the important decisions, leverages a preposterous theory about bio-terrorism, in an effort to defend his conspiracy-based worldview and excuse his foolish decision to reject several offers of international assistance. As the crisis is reaching its peak, Leader [Khamenei] adds demons to his list of perpetual enemies, and aid from Doctors Without Borders is turned away. While all citizens are forbidden from performing burial rites, military personnel under the leader's command held a funeral for the IRGC general who died of the coronavirus, calling him a martyr, and misinforming citizens with the utter falsehood that the funeral was a spontaneous event.
"The life of every single Iranian citizen is in the hands of the leader, his advisors, and the police and security forces. [Iranian President Rouhani's] obedient government is also abiding by these policies, and failing to take the necessary actions, despite all the warnings of officials in the health and hygiene systems. Thus, Iran's citizens, including its medical personnel who are risking their lives, are paying the price of this stupidity and ineffectualness. It should be noted that even low-income sectors have yet to receive anything but promises.
"Everywhere the world, politicians are deferring to the words and directions of [medical] experts. But here in our Iran, [medical] experts must obey the commands and directions of political and military officials...!
"Now more than ever, Mr. Khamenei must face the questions posed by the Iranian public:
"Should the National Development Fund – [Iran’s] foreign currency reserves – which belongs to all Iranians but is controlled by [Khamenei], be spent on the [IRGC's] Qods Force in service of Iran's regional interests alone, or should it support the pressing issue of public health – in laying the groundwork to minimize public movements, equip hospitals, and offer low-income populations [aid] and mitigate further misery?
"Can the regime, so practiced at suppressing even the smallest public protest, not act to minimize intra- and interurban traffic?
"Should the capital and many resources of the vast organizations controlled by Khamenei – including Imam Reza's Shrine [Foundation], the Foundation of the Oppressed and Disabled, the Executive Headquarters of Imam's Directive, and so on – all of which in fact belong to the Iranian people, be spent on the Arba'een pilgrimage and [cover] the vast expenditures of the leader's office, instead of [being spent on] on the vital national issue [of fighting the coronavirus]?
"Why are Khamenei, and other senior officials, who live in ideal quarantine conditions, selfishly and stubbornly withholding international aid from the Iranian people, on the most absurd pretexts? Following the  earthquake in the city of Bam [in Kerman province], they accepted U.S. aid and American presence in that region, and allowed the field hospital built [by the Americans] to continue to provide services for a long time. Why are they now deporting the highly reputable Doctors Without Borders organization?
"Why are the Leader [Khamenei] and his security forces and judicial authority insisting on blocking the release of all political prisoners? Why are those who help spread free information still being arrested, despite the current circumstances?
"Why is the [Iranian] broadcasting service, which acts against the nation and obeys Khamenei, so busy obfuscating facts, spreading superstitious ideas, and blaming the public, instead of acting with transparency on this vital matter and providing accurate, useful, and well-coordinated information to improve national cooperation in the fight against the coronavirus?
"During the fuel [protests] crisis, which was supposed to impact public budgeting, Khamenei personally and immediately entered the fray, silencing critics, including religious scholars affiliated with [President Rouhani's] government. Why then, now that there is a crisis in which the lives of the public are at stake, is the regime leader maintaining an opportunistic silence in the face of superstition and conservative reactionaries who squandered their chance to quarantine the city of Qom and ban large gatherings for a few weeks?
"There is no need to spell out the fundamental critique of the initial (and ongoing) obfuscation and lies, as it is already known to all.
"In the opinion of the signatories of this document, Khamenei is the main culprit in the making of the current crisis into a national disaster. Furthermore, [President] Rouhani is complicit in exacerbating this process, because of his cooperation with Khamenei in inciting and attributing the crisis to an enemy plot.
"We conclude with a few words for our alert, overwhelmed, yet concerned and endangered countrymen:
"Dear people of our homeland!
"In the absence of a responsible, efficient, and truthful regime, only doctors and medical professionals are devoted to protecting citizens from this virus. They can be the source for citizens seeking to carry on with life despite all the limitations... "
Outgoing Majlis Member Parvaneh Salahshouri: "The Authorities Hid The Outbreak Of The Virus From The Outset, And Told The Public About It Only After It Had Peaked"
Two weeks earlier outgoing Majlis member Parvaneh Salahshouri criticized the regime's conduct as exposed by the coronavirus crisis. In an interview published March 15, 2020 in the Jahan-i Sanat daily, she said openly that the authorities had concealed the truth about the outbreak from the public, had refused to take steps to stop it from the outset, had evaded responsibility and propagated conspiracy theories – according to which the virus was created by Iran's enemies, the U.S. and Israel. The following are the main points of her statements:
"Let us not forget that in Iran, the running [of the country] is not in the hands of a single organization [hinting that in addition to the executive branch, i.e. the government, there are many other bodies such as Khamenei's office, the IRGC, and parallel organizations]. As usual, in recent years those in charge are avoiding the responsibility with which they are charged. They are passing the buck from one to the other. Recently, they have been calling for fighting the 'bio-terror' of the coronavirus and saying that the ultimate responsibility [for defeating it] rests upon the shoulders of the armed forces...
"In our country, there are three common elements: one, concealing the truth; two, lying; and three, politicizing various things. That is, if the authorities do not manage to conceal the truth and to lie, but the matter still heads the agenda, then they offer conspiracy theories and turn the [matter] into a political affair.
"Our country's administrative weakness is almost unmatched in the world. All these elements together have created a situation in which not only [the cities of] Tehran, Qom, and Gilan but most of the provinces in Iran have been impacted by the coronavirus. Indeed, the public no longer believes the authorities and the media as they once did. The most dangerous thing is public's lack of confidence in the system, and this is even more dangerous than the coronavirus... It appears that there is a real shortage of information in the country – which enables the broadcasting authority to play a double game with the public. That is, on the one hand they tell the public to stay home, while on other they conceal the scope of the catastrophe from it...
Parvaneh Salahshour (Source: Iran-emrooz.net, March 15, 2020)
"In my view, it is impossible to quarantine the capital [Tehran], but the authorities could have quarantined the city of Qom [where the outbreak in Iran began] from the beginning, instead of concealing reality. In this way, they could have acted to prevent the virus from spreading to other cities. Those who prevented the quarantining of Qom are accountable to the public and to God.
"In another country in such a crisis, the [national] airline [a reference to the Iranian national carrier] Mahan would surely be recognized as the main factor in the outbreak of this disease, because of its negligence [Mahan's continuing its Iran-China flights even after the disease spread through Iran], and the judiciary would certainly have held it to account. But in our country, they arrest those who care about the matter [and warned about the spread of the disease]...
"These days, everyone is saying 'stay home.' When some of the public has no choice but to leave the safety of their homes in order to make a living, the government must allocate aid packages for supporting the poor so that the lives of as few as possible are in danger. For a long time, our country's economy has been in shambles, and therefore neither the government nor any other organization can quarantine Tehran. Quarantining would only be possible if they used the 200 million euros that the Majlis allocated to the IRGC a short time ago, and only if the IRGC wanted to use these funds to help the public – since it is obliged to use this money for the public... Due to ineffective administration, we have no positive outcome. The authorities hid the outbreak of the virus from the outset, and told the public about it only after it had peaked, and now everyone's work is difficult...
"In Iran, the senior officials were infected with the coronavirus before the people. The only way to control the virus is quarantine, but there is no such option for our country... The meaning of quarantine is that the government must bring food products to all the homes. But is our government capable of this?
"Thus, the only solution is to maintain personal and public hygiene and to stay home as much as possible. But we cannot actually order the worker – who needs to be out on the street [to earn] a single loaf of bread – to stay home, because we cannot support him...
"There is no greater disgrace than a public afflicted with poverty and starvation in a country awash in petroleum."
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 8658 – IRGC Cyber Division Confirms Supreme Leader Khamenei's Assertion That 'Demons Are Assisting The Enemies' With Statements That 'The Israeli Mossad Is... Using Demons' And 'The Jews Are Experts At Sorcery And At Creating Relationships With Demons', March 26, 2020.
 See MEMRI TV Clip No. 7833, Iranian Deputy Health Minister Harirchi: We Oppose Quarantines; If We Shut Down Qom, People Would Go Traveling, Spreading Coronavirus All Over the Country, Feb 24, 2020; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 8582,
Iranian Majlis Representative From Qom: 10 Deaths Every Day From Coronavirus In The City, The Regime Is Concealing The Numbers Of Dead In Iran; Former Official In Office Of President Rouhani: 'Coronavirus – A Gift From The Clerics Of The Islamic Republic [Of Iran] To The People', February 24, 2020.
 Refers to the Iranian officials’ refusal to quarantine the religious city of Qom and ban the pilgrimage to the shrines there. On Iranian religious activists who boasted about licking shrines in defiance of the coronavirus, see MEMRI TV Clip No. 7848, Iranians Lick Shiite Shrines in Defiance of Coronavirus Threats; Iranian-Islamic Medicine Expert: I Will Cure It, Feb 27, 2020.
 See MEMRI TV Clip No. 7887, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: U.S. Is Accused of Creating the Coronavirus, It Would Be Unreasonable for Us to Accept Assistance from It, March 22, 2020.
 The Arbaeen Pilgrimage is a political/religious march from Najaf, Iran to Karbala, Iraq, established by the Iranian regime to mark the anniversary of the 40th day after the death of the Third Shi'ite Imam Hussain bin Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, in the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE. The Iranian regime is promoting this pilgrimage as a rival to the Sunni Hajj to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
 A reference to the expulsion of a Doctors Without Borders delegation and the rejection of humanitarian aid offered by the U.S.
 Kaleme.com, March 29, 2020.
 Jihan-i Sanat (Iran), March 15, 2020.