Public suicide in Iran highlights economic angst

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Ruhollah Parazideh, a 38-year-old, stiff man with a thick mustache and gray spotted hair, was desperate for a job. The father of three in southern Iran walked into a local office of a foundation that helps veterans and their families, asking for help.

Local media reported that Parazideh told officials he would throw himself from their roof if they couldn’t help. They tried to reason with him, promising him a meager loan, but he left unsatisfied.

He soon returned to the gates of the building, poured gasoline on himself and put a lighted match on his neck. He died of his burns two days later, on October 21.

Parazideh’s suicide in the city of Yasuj shocked many people in Iran, and not just because he was the son of Golmohammad Parazideh, a prominent provincial hero in the country’s 1980-88 war with Iraq who killed hundreds of thousands.

He highlighted the growing public fury and frustration as Iran’s economy collapses, unemployment skyrockets and food prices skyrocket.

His death came outside the local office of the Foundation for War Martyrs and Disabled People, a wealthy and powerful government agency that helps the families of those killed and wounded in Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution and the wars that have affected it. regular.

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

Iran values ​​its war dead from the conflict with Iraq, known in Tehran as “Sacred Defense”, and the foundation plays a big role in this regard. After the revolution installed the clergy-run system, the foundation began providing pensions, loans, housing, education, and even high-ranking government jobs.

Following Parazideh’s suicide, the foundation fired two of its senior provincial officials and demanded the dismissal of the governor’s adviser on veterans and a social worker, criticizing their inability to send the distressed man to a medical facility or others for help, local media reported. .

The fallout has reached the highest levels of government. Ayatollah Sharfeddin Malakhosseini, advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called the case a warning that authorities should “get rid of unemployment, poverty and severed social ties.”

In 2014, Parliament opened an investigation into one of the foundation’s main banks for allegedly embezzling $ 5 million. His findings were never revealed.

The foundation is known to provide financial support to Islamic militant organizations in the region, from Hezbollah in Lebanon to Hamas in Gaza, which led the United States to sanction it in 2007 for its support for terrorism.

Parazideh’s suicide was one of many suicides in recent years that appear to be motivated by economic hardship.

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

As the coronavirus pandemic wreaked economic havoc, suicides in Iran rose by more than 4%, according to a government study cited by reformist daily Etemad.

For many in the Middle East, the act of self-immolation – the protest used by a fruit seller named Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia who became a catalyst for the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 – evokes wider discontent with the economic hardship and lack of opportunities.

“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 withdrew America from Tehran’s historic nuclear deal with world powers and reinstated sanctions against Iran, bludgeoning an oil-dependent economy already hampered by inefficiencies. The pandemic has deepened the economic desperation. About 1 million Iranians have lost their jobs and unemployment has soared by more than 10%, a rate almost twice as high among young people.

Capital flight soared to $ 30 billion, driving out foreign investors.

Negotiations to revive the atomic deal have stalled in the five months since hard-line president Ebrahim Raisi took power, allowing Tehran to continue its nuclear program. On Wednesday, the European Union announced that talks between world powers and Iran on relaunching the deal would resume on November 29 in Vienna. The announcement fueled modest hopes that the Biden administration could resurrect the deal.

“It is impossible to hide people’s dissatisfaction with the economy,” said Mohammad Qassim Osmani, an official at Audit Organization Services, a government watchdog. “The structure of the country is flawed and sick. We need an economic revolution.

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

“About 40 million people in the country are in need of immediate and immediate help,” lawmaker Hamid Reza Hajbabaei, head of the parliamentary budget committee, said during a televised debate last week, referring to nearly half of the population.

The increase in poverty goes beyond the numbers and becomes a visible part of everyday life. In the streets of Tehran, more and more people are looking in the garbage for something that can be sold. Children sell trinkets and handkerchiefs. Beggars are begging for change at most intersections – a rare sight ten years ago.

Petty thefts have increased, straining the already difficult justice system. Last week, a court in Tehran sentenced a 45-year-old father to three to 10 months in prison and 40 lashes for pocketing a few packets of peanuts.

General Ali Reza Lotfi, Tehran’s chief police detective, blamed the economy for the spike in crime, noting that more than half of all detainees last year were first-time offenders.

It is up to Raisi to manage the economic pressures. He frequently repeats campaign pledges to create 1 million jobs through construction and tourism projects.

But many low-wage workers, bearing the brunt of the Iranian crisis, have no hope.

Last month, in another high-profile case, a 32-year-old teacher facing crushing debt hanged himself in the southern town of Guerash after a bank rejected his request for a $ 200 loan. .

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Associated Press reporter Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.

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