Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Public suicide in Iran reveals economic anxiety

TEHERAN, Iran (AP). Ruholla Parazide, a wiry 38-year-old with a thick mustache and gray-spotted hair, was in desperate need of work. A father of three from southern Iran walked into the local office of a foundation that helps war veterans and their families, pleading for help.

Local media reported that Parasida told officials that he would throw himself off their roof if they were unable to help. They tried to reason with him by promising a meager loan, but he remained dissatisfied.

Soon he returned to the gate of the building, doused himself with gasoline and pressed a lighted match to his neck. He died of burns two days later, on October 21.

The suicide of Parasides in the city of Yasuj shocked many in Iran, and not only because he was the son of Golmohammad Parazideh, the famous provincial hero of the 1980-88 war with Iraq, which killed hundreds of thousands of people.

He has highlighted growing public discontent and frustration as Iran’s economy falls, unemployment skyrockets and food prices skyrocket.

His death occurred outside the local office of the War Martyrs and Invalids Foundation, a wealthy and powerful government agency that helps the families of those killed and wounded during the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and subsequent wars.

“I was shocked when I heard this news,” said Mina Ahmadi, a student at Beheshti University north of Tehran. “I thought the families of the victims (of the war) enjoyed the generous support of the government.”

Iran highly values ​​its war, which was lost as a result of the conflict with Iraq, known in Tehran as the “Sacred Defense”, and the foundation plays a large role in this. After the revolution established an office-run system, the foundation began providing pensions, loans, housing, education, and even some high-ranking government positions.

Following Paraside’s suicide, the foundation fired two high-ranking officials in the province and demanded the firing of the governor’s veterans affairs adviser and social worker, criticizing their failure to send the victim to a medical facility or others for help, local media reported. …

The consequences have reached the highest levels of government. Ayatollah Sharfeddin Malahosseini, an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called the case a warning that officials must “get rid of unemployment, poverty and disruption of social ties.”

In 2014, parliament launched an investigation into one of the main banks associated with the fund, on charges of embezzling $ 5 million. Its results were never disclosed.

The foundation is known to channel financial support to Islamic paramilitaries in the region, from Hezbollah in Lebanon to Hamas in Gaza, leading to US sanctions in 2007 for supporting terrorism.

Paraside’s suicide was one of several in recent years that appears to have been driven by economic hardship.

Self-immolation in recent years has killed at least two other veterans and injured the wife of a disabled veteran outside the foundation’s branches in Tehran, Kermanshah and Qom.

As the coronavirus pandemic has caused economic damage, Iran’s suicide rate has increased by more than 4%, according to a government study cited by the reformist daily Etemad.

For many in the Middle East, the act of self-immolation – a protest organized by a fruit vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia that catalyzed the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings – is sparking wider resentment over economic problems and lack of opportunity.

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“I don’t know where we are going because of poverty,” said Reza Hashemi, a literature teacher at a high school in Tehran.

In 2018, then-President Donald Trump pulled America out of Tehran’s landmark nuclear deal with world powers and reversed sanctions against Iran, hitting an already inefficient oil-dependent economy. The pandemic has exacerbated economic despair. About 1 million Iranians have lost their jobs and unemployment has risen by more than 10% – a rate that is nearly double that among young people.

Capital outflows rose to $ 30 billion, driving foreign investors away.

Negotiations to renew the nuclear deal have stalled in the five months since President Ebrahim Raisi took office, allowing Tehran to advance its nuclear program. On Wednesday, the European Union announced that talks between the world powers and Iran to resume the deal will resume on November 29 in Vienna. The announcement raised modest hopes that the Biden administration could revive the deal.

“It’s impossible to hide people’s dissatisfaction with the economy,” said Mohammad Qassim Osmani, an Auditing Firm official who oversees the government. “The structure of the country is wrong and sick. We need an economic revolution. “

Iran’s currency, the rial, has declined to less than 50% of its value since 2018. Wages have not increased to compensate for the loss, and the Labor Department said more than a third of the population lives in extreme poverty.

“About 40 million people in the country need immediate and immediate assistance,” MP Hamid Reza Hajbabai, head of the parliament’s budget committee, said in a televised debate last week, referring to nearly half of the population.

Rising poverty is moving beyond mere numbers and is becoming a visible part of everyday life. On the streets of Tehran, more and more people are looking in the trash for something to sell. Children sell trinkets and napkins. Beggars ask for change at most intersections – which was rare ten years ago.

The number of petty thieves increased and became a test of the already harsh justice system. Last week, a Tehran court sentenced the 45-year-old father to three to ten months in prison and 40 lashes for pockets of peanuts.

General Ali Reza Lotfi, the chief detective of Tehran’s police, blamed the economy for the sharp rise in crime, noting that more than half of all those detained last year were first time delinquents.

It fell to Raisi to deal with the economic pressure. He often reiterates the campaign’s promises to create 1 million jobs through construction and tourism projects.

But many of the low-paid workers affected by the Iranian crisis have no hope.

Last month, in another highly publicized case, a 32-year-old teacher faced with overwhelming debt hanged himself in the southern city of Gerash after a bank turned down his request for a $ 200 loan.

___

Associated Press author Isabelle DeBre from Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.

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