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Iranians Outraged Over IRGC-Organized Street Funeral Amid Coronavirus Epidemic

Funeral procession for a former Revolutionary Guard Commander in a township near Tehran, Iran, March 23, 2020.
Funeral procession for a former Revolutionary Guard Commander in a township near Tehran, Iran, March 23, 2020.

A street funeral procession held for a former Revolutionary Guard Commander in a township near Tehran on Monday, which brought thousands of people together despite government pleas to observe social distancing, has outraged many Iranians.

The photos posted on Iranian news websites show a massive procession in Vardavard, a township near Tehran. Many of the mourners walking behind the casket holding the body of Brigadier Hossein Assadollahi, a former Revolutionary Guard division commander, are seen in the photos not even wearing protective masks.

Despite censorship and self-censorship to avoid persecution for criticizing the Revolutionary Guard, the media drew attention to the incident by publishing photos of the procession with little comment. The photos were clearly indicative of the serious breach of public safety measures by the Guard but the only government official who has shown a reaction is Dr. Kianush Jahanpur, Spokesman of the Coronavirus Combat Taskforce.

Dr. Jahanpur who is also the Public Relations Head of the Health Ministry tweeted several photos of the procession and sarcastically noted: "This is probably a new health protocol for funerals and in relation to curbs on rallies. The pictures speak. We only can shed tears [in response]. No need for explanation!!!"

Tweet by the Coronavirus Combat Taskforce spokesman showing the procession of a former IRGC commander in Vardavard.

Fararu, a conservative news website that published some photos of the procession also noted that when all shops and offices are closed and even the doors of holy Shiite shrines have been shut to contain the coronavirus epidemic, holding a funeral ceremony on this scale was "surprising" for the want of any stronger term that could protect it from repercussions.

The Guard-affiliated news outlets refer to Brigadier General Assadollahi as a "comrade and co-fighter of Qassem Soleimani against Da'esh in Syria". According to these accounts, Assadollahi died of complications caused by the chemical injuries he sustained years ago when he was exposed to toxic chemicals used by Iraq against Iranian troops and civilians during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). However, people with lung injuries from past exposure to chemical weapons are very vulnerable to the coronavirus.

The public outrage has forced the Revolutionary Guard to deny organizing the funeral procession. Brigadier General Ramezan Sharif, the IRGC Spokesman, said the mourners had attended the funeral "spontaneously". "The Guard considers itself obligated to heed the measures and decisions taken by the National Coronavirus Combat Taskforce," he said.