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The Crash, Covid-19 and Other Iranian Stories, Mana Neyestani Book Designer: Touska Jam Copyright © 2021 Off-Centre Productions Cambridge Street, London SW1V 4PS, 83 United Kingdom All right reserved

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Introduction

by Mana Neyestani

The Crash, Covid-19 and Other Iranian Stories is a snapshot of the lives of four imaginary characters: an incomplete tale of incomplete lives. The protagonists have fallen captive to a dark entity that gives them no chance to fulfil their destinies: an entity that has cast an evil spell on the ship they are aboard, whose sailors don’t care whether their passengers survive or drown. The ship’s masters have no interest in our common memory, nor in our history. They thrive on oblivion, and on our failure to remember the harms they’ve inflicted on us and our ship. This short graphic novel is an attempt to record this moment in history. But the story of coronavirus in Iran is far from over, and each day a new (and usually painful) chapter is added. Except for those officials who have been involved in the coronavirus response in Iran, all names and characters in this novel are fictional and any similarity between them and real people is unintentional. I dedicate this work to all of Iran’s victims of Covid-19, and to the victims of the greater virus that for more than 40 years has claimed the lives of many of our people.

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Foreword: A Nation Betrayed Interview with Mana Neyestani by Maziar Bahari

Have you ever been punched in the jaw? The best of Mana Neyestani’s cartoons remind me of exactly that. The pain goes from your brain to your eyes, travels through your heart down to your gut, and then suddenly, you’re out cold. The tragic beauty of the drawings disarms you, hurts your feelings. You can never forget them. Mana has experienced Iranian tragedy firsthand. He was jailed and threatened with the death penalty over a cartoon he’d drawn in Iran in 2006. Since then he has lived in exile, first in Malaysia and now in France. But wherever he is, Mana remains an Iranian artist. His cartoons make you feel the pain of his people: ordinary, peaceful Iranians, artists, workers and teachers, now betrayed, brutalized and held hostage by a regime of ideological criminals. Since November 2019, when hundreds of protesters were murdered by Iran’s security forces during uprisings triggered by a hike in fuel prices, Mana’s dark and biting satire has packed even more of a punch. That month, the government also shut off the internet for a week so the killers could carry out their actions with impunity. None of the authorities have been brought to justice for these murders, but many of the demonstrators are still on death row. Just a few months later on January 8, 2020, the Revolutionary Guards shot down a Ukrainian Airlines passenger plane over Tehran, killing all 176 people on board. Again, not one person has yet stood trial for the deaths of these innocent civilians. The Islamic Republic’s failure to manage the coronavirus epidemic

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has once again brought everything we knew about the regime’s incompetence and corruption to the fore. The government says 57,000 people in Iran have died from Covid-19. We know the real figure is much higher, but anyone who says so in Iran is charged with acting against national security. Mana’s new graphic novel opens in February 2020, a time when the Iranian state knew that a new disease was killing people in China, but chose not to act for political and economic reasons. Flights between Iran and China continued apace, mass rallies were held in the streets to mark the Anniversary of the Revolution on February 11, and the parliamentary elections went ahead on February 21 even as dozens of Iranians were lying in hospital sick with Covid-19. Those who spoke out about the dangers were arrested and punished. The first deaths were covered up by the security forces. By the time the crisis was officially acknowledged, it was too late. Mana’s book follows the journeys of a group of fictional Iranians through the resultant ruins of their country and their lives. I asked Mana about these characters and how they came to be. How did you come up with the characters in this graphic novel? I felt it would be interesting to show the daily lives of Iranians during the pandemic through the four main characters of the story. We see a journalist who considers it his duty to provide accurate information on Covid-19 statistics; a writer who used to believe in reform but as a result of recent events has become frustrated; a Quran teacher who lives in the city of Qom and supports the regime; and finally a nurse, a member of one of the most neglected and pressurized groups in society during the pandemic.

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What’s the story of these characters? The truth is that the content of the book is not all that dramatized. The story begins with the writer, who lost a loved one on Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752, which was shot down by the Revolutionary Guards in January 2020. He is disillusioned and no longer wants to participate in politics. This happened shortly before the 2020 Iranian parliamentary elections, before which state television was full of exhortations for people to go to the polls. The writer’s character seems to be similar to your own; you also worked for reformist media, and you lost a loved one in the Flight 752 incident. Naturally, the work doesn’t detail the characters’ lives; that is the difference between a short story and a long story, and more attention is paid here to situations. In any event, the person in question is a novelist or an author with a reputation. In devising his character, I was inspired not only by myself but also by others I know and those affected by the Ukrainian plane crash. Like your brother Touka, and his son, whose fiancé was killed? I didn’t want to name them, but yes, that’s right. My brother Touka in particular suffered a great deal, and in all the works he has produced over the past year, we see a trace of that plane. This event also has a symbolic property in my own work. There is the character of the author, and there is also the plane; that is, it seems to be crashing in his mind.

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Is the journalist in the book based on Iranian investigative journalist Mohammad Mossaed? Yes, Mossaed was one of my sources of inspiration for the journalist. I’ve been inspired by Mossaed and all the journalists in Iran who’ve paid the price for what they have uncovered. I also drew on the character of Mahmoud Shahriari, who warned in Instagram videos about the spread of coronavirus in Iran and kept on asking questions; we finally saw that Shahriari was arrested and reprimanded. The character I portray is not entirely derived from either, or from any other journalist or media activist, but is a fictional being who exhibits parts of all these people. How did you approach the character of the nurse? The character of the nurse was perhaps one of the most distant and difficult. Because, unlike writers, journalists, and Quranic teachers, I’d never been in contact with nurses. I also tried to consider the character of a woman, regardless of her job, who acts contrary to the dominant ideology of her society. Some of the ideological slogans have been meant to honor medical workers by calling them war heroes, but those who chant the slogans never consider the fragility, hardships, and even despair borne by nurses. I tried to reflect their pain and suffering. Like other members of society, these nurses are also dealing with low salaries and poverty. And like the rest of us, they’re just tired. Tell us more about this exhaustion. Everyone I’m talking to these days complains about burnout. It seems in the last year that people everywhere, and especially the people of Iran, are more frustrated and tired than ever before.

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It’s because of the accumulation of a series of tragic events, the lack of an escape route or a chance to breathe, and the stifling of those few small windows of hope. This situation is not something that has arisen suddenly: it is the result of 40 years of the current regime in Iran. Until 20 years ago, I think, many Iranians believed positive change and reform could take place. Unfortunately the government was ruthless and didn’t take one step toward meeting their demands. In the waves of protest that have taken place in the last 20 years, such as in 1999, 2009, 2018 and 2019, we see the frustration and anger. Each time, they’re confronted with a hammer-blow of repression and suffocation by the government, and the windows of hope are closed. This has created a feeling of collective exhaustion. What’s the main difference between this and the daily cartoons you draw? The main difference between a cartoon and a graphic novel is that it has more time and space for storytelling and characterization. Not that a cartoon doesn’t have a story, but the nature of a story in a drawing or editorial cartoon is entirely different from graphic novels. In a cartoon, we have one frame to tell a short story and to describe what is happening in society. There isn’t enough time for in-depth characterization. In a cartoon, we have to introduce all the characters in one frame: both the killer and the victim. This sometimes leads to questions and ambiguities and criticism as to why, for example, a character is shown as negative or positive in a cartoon. So, I have to resort to stereotypes. For example, when I want to draw about the Ukrainian plane’s downing, I have to show the Revolutionary Guards’ direct responsibility.

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Do you agree that you’ve become more critical of the Islamic Republic over the past year? I believe cartoons should reflect the current situation in a country’s socio-political reality. Naturally, I have no choice but to reflect the mood of the people of my country. This is true for all political cartoonists in every country. In a country like the United States, when a president comes to power whose performance is criticized by the people, the tone of editorial cartoons also becomes sharper and more critical. An editorial cartoon is a mirror of society. The conditions of the cartoonist also affect the quality and style of the work. I’m not a machine, and in the current situation, my mood and personal outlook are undoubtedly influenced by negative forces. But if I ever feel that real reforms or positive changes and improvements are being made for the people, I cannot turn a blind eye to them either.

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10 The Crash, Covid-19 and Other Iranian Stories | Mana Neyestani


BLAM!

BOOM

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It Was Dream A My Rec …... u Nightm rring ar These e Days.

NO! Since Hengameh went away, all I see is the moment that plane was struck. The Ukrainian plane that the Revolutionary Guards shot down, with two missiles…...

Why you, Hengameh? Why not me?

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It’s as if my pen has dried up ...

... I can’t continue my novel.

There’s no hope

Awake or asleep, I’m in a continuous nightmare.

anymore.

For years, I thought we could find loopholes to reform the state.

Dear viewers, tomorr ow is the parliamentary electio day of the ns! This time, our enemie s of an epidemic to wea are using rumors ken our participation .

What loopholes?!

To reform th Mafiosi, mur is derous, lying regime?

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Watch my colleague’s report from Qom. Listen to citizens’ opinions of this supposed epidemic!

As you can see, this so-called Covid-19 patient is actually suffering from a simple lung inflammation.

Coronavirus? We haven’t seen any coronavirus . We are all in good health, an d ready to vote!

If you say it’s a lie, then it must be true. I wouldn’t spit into your ballot boxes, you lying murderers!

Thank God, it’s nothing but the common cold. Qom is doing just fine.

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The enemy wa nts to scare tomorrow mi us. But llions will go to the We’ll deliverpolls. a hefty punch to Amer ica’s mouth!


Thanks a lot. Excellent!

CUT. .

It was my religious duty, brother. It came from the people’s hearts.

Next, please.

At a time when the enemy is targeting the state’s values, lying in wait to ambush us from the ramparts of our geography and culture…

I really do believe in what I said…

This wicked enemy is now so brazen, it even martyred our heroic General Soleimani…

To leave the stage now would be to betray the martyrs of the Revolution.

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The hostile media blew it out of proportion. The Saudis and Israelis insisted our noble Guards were guilty.

Didn’t the enemy turn the sweetness of the Revolutionary Guards’ vengeance into bitterness by playing up the crash of the Ukrainian plane?

Let’s say this. To avenge the blood of our Commander, 176 passengers on a plane were killed… by mistake.

But isn’t ours a regime of sacrifice and martyrdom? Didn’t the tree of the Islamic Revolution bear fruit from the martyrs’ blood?

I am a simple Quran teacher in Qom. Even I can see how they plan to lead our children astray…

Daddy’s home!

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To drive Fatemeh, and every Fatemeh, away from religion…

Fatemeh, darling!

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So for the sake of Fatemeh, and for every Fatemeh…

For the sake of this country’s future…

For the sake of our Islamic values, and to satisfy God…

We must go…

n is The natio re su ea m e th te vo e th of

Ignoring the enemy’s deception, they stand in crowded lines to cast their votes.

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With majestic pride…

…he inked his finger and cast a Vote For the most fundamentalist candidate…

…to make our wise, great leader happy.

Dear ones, I thank you all… Please go over there and drop your vote into the box.

…for bringing about another triumph by going to the polls.

The enemy tried to stop you from voting by sowing division and lies. But they failed.

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Rumormongering about coronavirus was their last desperate stand. But it hasn’t worked…

Th eE ve nin g

le Dist ad an er ce an be d tw th e e en au t di he en ce

th e

Ne ws

T Ex he al Me te et i d Le ng ad of er

Damn them… Damn all of them!

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He knew full well about the outbreak! He kept back from the audience.


OK Let’s . go live!

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Dear friends, I am Saeed Madadi, the journalist …

I know I’ll suffer consequences for what I am about to say. I wrote some of it earlier in a few articles…

…as much as restrictions permitted me, of course. But then, after they were published …

…the security services reprimanded me. They indicted me and my newspaper, and sacked me!

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So why, once again, am I taking the risk to talk about the awful situation of coronavirus in this country?

Yes, Covid-19: the disease that, as of now, has thrown tens of thousands of Iranians into the pit of death.


Sorry…

Somebody has to say it… This… This is a disaster.

I’m not an enemy or a mercenary. I’m a journalist doing his job: explaining the facts, asking questions.

It is a crime.

On January 25, 2020, Mr Harirchi, the deputy health minister, claimed preventive measures had already stopped the virus from entering Iran.

Let’s start from the beginning.

Official reports state the WHO told Iranian hospitals about Covid-19 on January 12, 2020. That means they knew its symptoms and complications, and how to prevent infection.

Don’t be alarmed. Nothing is going on. Take the usual precautions you’d take against seasonal flu.

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There were multiple reports from Qom’s Kamkar Hospital that patients with Covid-19 symptoms were dying there. But these patients were not tested for the virus.

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The virus is known to lie dormant in the body for up to 14 days. But the health minister claimed it was four! There are no coronavirus cases in this country.

By January 29, 2020, infecti on and fatalit y rates in China, where the virus originated, were very high. Many countr ies stoppe d flights to China… but not Iran! Why not?

There are two foreign patients with flu symptoms in hospital. It is definitely not coronavi rus. But as a precautio n, we kept them in for four or five days.

Our organization has no plans to suspend flights to China. But new arrivals are under stringent control.

spokesman for the Civil Aviation Organization

Control? What control? The videos showed this control was a joke.

Welcome to Imam Khomeini Airport

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On February 4, 2020, the Civil Defense Organization claimed Iran’s coronavirus situation was “white”.

People in different cities posted videos online claiming that coronavirus had come to their localities.

That same day, Hossein Molaei, brother of the renowned Dr Molaei, was hospitalized in Qom with Covid-19 symptoms. Dr Molaei’s public statements helped force out the news.

I have several friends who have been hospitalized with lung infections! People, coronavirus has entered Kurdistan! The officials are lying.

Security forces arrested most of them, and forced them to retract it!

I was deceived… I lied… What coronavirus? Forgive me.

On February 8, officials announced that all flights to and from China had been canceled. Flight records later showed that this had been a lie. Why?

The police will not allow rumormongers to disturb the public mind, right before the Anniversary of the Revolution and the elections.

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A few days after the government’s announcement, the CEO of Mahan Airlines responded:

There is no reason to suspend flights to China!

Mahan Airlines flights from Iran to China…

…and from China to Iran…

…will continue!

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Two weeks before the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Iranian officials at various levels all denied that coronavirus had entered or There spread in Iran. is

d, k Go Th a n in g is h n o t e n in g . happ

n coro o n virusain Iran .

The situation in the country is white.

Everything is under control.

This rumo r is t he work of th e Revo lutio n’s foes .

Thereneed is no orry. to w

It cam e even as a health ministry expe rt said the viru s had prob ably been brou ght to Qom by Chin ese wor kers and was now infe ctin g the peop le.

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And so festivities for the Anniversary of the Revolution were held in Qom and other Iranian cities. People took part in rallies and marches without social distancing or sanitary precautions.

The elections were held just under two weeks later. Almost 24 million Iranians went to the polls. In most cities, people used the same ink pads again and again.

2 Weeks Late r

Then existence of Covid-19 patients was then announced little by little… Some officials who had denied it just weeks before became infected themselves!

There is no coronavirus in Qom.

…I have the coronavirus. How funny!

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On February 24 an MP for Qom, Ahmad Amirabadi, was quoted as saying that coronavirus had been in his city for three weeks but officials had covered it up.

He said 50 people had died in Qom and 250 more were in quarantine. The health minister, he said, was to blame. Health minister:

Twelve people have died from Covid-19 at most. From this moment on, instead of denying it outright, our dear officials under-reported and fiddled the corona virus figures.

Ali Akbar Velayati, ex-advisor to the Supreme Leader and president of Masih Daneshvari Hospital:

Two weeks later it emerged that Mr Velayati had been infected with coronavirus and gone to hospital. An enemy conspiracy! Ha!

The curve of infections in Qom is descending. The news of a surge in new cases is an enemy lie.

As the contagion in Qom intensified, Dr Minoo Mohraz of the health ministry’s infectious diseases committee said:

Because of the high volume of pilgrims and visitors, Qom must be quarantined!

First deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi responded to this logical demand thus: We are strongly against quarantines.

Quarantines belong to the Medieval era.

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Mr Harirchi. Quarantine is “Medieval”? In our country we execute and flog prisoners in public, and cut off the fingers of thieves!

During the interview Mr Harirchi had been coughing and sweating. It turned out he too had coronavirus!

It was then the turn of the good President Rouhani to downplay the epidemic.

Locking down the country is a weapon created by Iran’s enemies!

We must all go to work and carry on as normal. Fortunately, the rate of infection is declining!

Ever since then, Iran has only descended further into the quagmire of coronavirus. And all we see are lies and political games!

Lies, lies and more lies!

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The official curve of infections in Iran followed a different pattern to those of other countries. Why might this be? During this period, Iranian journalists and citizens reporting on Covid-19 were arrested on the charge of “spreading lies”...

…while official media broadcast lies on TV, not from doctors, but from politicians, the military and the clergy!

Inject oil violet ur o y o int cure o t s u an virus! corona

The Guards have invented a magnetic device that can detect the virus from meters away!

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s Th e victo ri ou u ar my br in gs yo : go od tid in gsed a we have in ve nt co ro navir us -e! kil lin g ma ch in


The religious establishment did nothing to help the situation either.

Place yourur hand on yoecite r heart and verses. ’s n a r o the K rotect God will p harm! m o you fr

Go on the Ashura pilgrimage an d say your pray ers to ward off this disease.

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Neither Qom nor any other city was quarantined. Coronavirus spread across the country and mutated. The waves rose up and drowned many thousands. Their deaths were recorded as “stoppage of the heart” and “respiratory failure” to keep the Covid-19 figures low.

Neither politicians, nor doctors, nor the leading lights of Iranian arts and culture, escaped the second and third waves of coronavirus…

Coro virusna

Lung

Failu re

34 The Crash, Covid-19 and Other Iranian Stories | Mana Neyestani

One of them was Khosrow Sinai, the great Iranian movie director who had long wanted to make a film but could not get a permit for it.


The trend went on, and the figures stayed low, until the US too was overwhelmed by the deadly virus. This apparently made Iran’s political and health officials breathe easier. From then on, a rising number of Covid-19 fatalities were reported in Iran. But why?!

My last question for my country’s officials is this…

Seriously, why? Are we and the Americans competing for a bigger death toll? Do we win, perhaps, if we end up with one less death than they do?

Why, when you could have slowed infections and saved the lives of thousands of Iranians, did you indulge in political games? Why, instead of acting transparently, did you resort to lying and silencing the media?

This is a crime!

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You said Iran had been the most successful country in the world in fighting coronavirus.

You said other countries used our health system as a model.

But the reality is the freshly-dug graveyards, filling up with the bodies of our compatriots…

Ladies and gentlemen! How long are we going to lie to ourselves and to the people?

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Let’s not forget that THE LIFE of each and every one of us is precious… Until next time!

Dariush

Those were some harsh words… He was telling the truth.

But how can anyone tell the truth in this country and get away with it?

Who is this guy anyway? He says he’s a journalist, so how come they’ve left him alone?

It’s obvious…

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He must be one of them… He’s part of their game!

Everything is a game. Everything is fake. Whatever we come to care for… whatever seems right… is fake!

The reality is even worse than this guy says…

Mo jg an , do n’ t be late !

Nearly ready, Mom! The things I’ve seen myself these past few months…

A few months, working as a nurse on a respiratory ward…

Months of pressure… lies… threats… danger… and exhaustion.

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I’ll never forget those early days. The new Covid-19 patients just kept coming…

Nurse Moini? Nurse Mahmoudi?

When you get onto the ward, please take off your masks!

I know that. It’s not up to me. The order from above is we don’t wear masks, because it scares people… Sorry.

But Dr Ghorbani, surely this is an infectious disease…

You’re sweating… Are you OK?

I’m fine… Just tired, probably… Thanks.

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Dr Ghorbani had coronavirus. The disease spread to his lungs and he died two weeks later.

- cough -

- co

Then Nurse Moini got sick and passed away.

ugh

Then it was the turn of Dr Hosseini, and after him, Nurse Loghmani.

After Nurse Loghmani, it was Nurse Kamrani… then Dr Hamidi… Dr Assadpour… and so many others. I’m still unscathed!

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-


Ayatollah Abdolkarimi Abedini, the Supreme Leader’s representative in Qazvin

But for how long?

Nurses and doctors are the soldiers on the front line against corona!

No, damn you! I am not a soldier, and I didn’t become a nurse to be killed! You wouldn’t have the right to use soldiers as cannon fodder either!

mn Da

u… yo

How long can I go on like this and survive? I’m not so afraid of dying. Or maybe I am… but more than that, I’m afraid of not living.

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What have these 30 years of life meant to me? And what next?

Heeeey! Looking fine, even with a mask on!

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Marry and have a child? In the best-case scenario, in 30 years’ time she’ll be standing just where I am now…


Among these people, crushed under the pressure of poverty, inflation, sanctions and a thousand other miseries, who’ve learned to wear masks to survive and to profit… Everybody has another mask on under these masks.

I cannot… take it anymore.

The fever and coughin g will set in one of these days and then, most likely, the end.

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Better just to give up and leave… Like Nurse Jalali, and Parvizi. They went to Germany and were accepted there… Ladies Restroom

These five are very sick. Their lungs have gone completely white. I don’t think they’ll last the evening. Hey! What’s new?

As usual, Mitra is absorbed in online news.

dadi d Ma Saee sted One Arre ur Ago Ho

Iran and the US are squaring up to each other… price of the dollar has gone up… they charged another journalist with spreading lies about corona…

Hi. Nothing, as ever…

What’s newsworthy about that?! They arrest anybody who tells the truth…

Or these people do it intentionally. To get arrested, get famous…

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…so then they can go to a European country, claim asylum and have fun… How’s the situation on the ward?

Awful. The “writer” is doing terribly. And a few others are close to the end. Wa rd

The daughter of this “writer” was killed aboard the Ukrainian Airlines flight. After he got infected, he came to hospital so late that both his lungs had stopped working…

Even if I try to leave, they might shoot the plane down at the last minute!

But better to go…

ny, e, Germa To Franc e. r e h anyw Sweden…

Anywhere one could hope for a future after this damned pandemic…

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We’re crashing. No!

Fath er?

Don’t b e afraid…

I’m here …

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No matter what happens, I‘m here with you…


For always ... for always.

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Bed 15 needs CPR! Nurse Nazari…

Better to go…

g!

Nurse Nazari, hurry please…

Can’t take it anymore… Can’t…

Comin

Bed 15 is gone…

The bed next to him too. Tell them to take both to the morgue. Damn this virus!

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He was a Koran teacher.

They brought him from Qom…

-c

ou

g

h-

Bless his soul!

-c

ou

gh

-

Dry coughs!

Perhaps I got it this time …

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Nurse Mahmoudi, are you OK?

It’s nothing. I think it’s fatigue. I can’t sleep at night. Just to be on the safe side, get a test. ASAP. Something happened?

Staff Room

No, Mitra.

Listen to this: Tehran Municipality has prepared 15,000 graves “in case of an emergency”.

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An d we gr um bl e that the y ar en ’t do ing an yth ing !


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Look at the desert of Karbala! It is has turned red with the blood of the martyrs! Alas! Alas!

Weep, O Muslims… Shed tears that the dearest beings of this world have been struck down by the blades of tyrants…

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Mourning ceremonies to mark the 40th day of Imam Hossein’s martydom some 1,400 years ago at Imam Khomeini Prayer Hall. August 26, 2020.


Profile for IranWire

Crash, Covid-19, and Other Iranian Stories  

By Mana Neyestani

Crash, Covid-19, and Other Iranian Stories  

By Mana Neyestani

Profile for iranwire