Coronavirus has changed the world this year as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe and sent countries into lockdown. As of mid-June, Iranian regime claimed that more than 200,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with more than 9,000 deaths and 159,000 recoveries. However, World Health Organization announced that the numbers could be 5 times more. And according to the Iranian opposition’s sources inside Iran, the number of death are close to 60,000 in 339 cities. With the nation in the center of the coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East, Iranian American advocacy groups are closely monitoring the evolving situation and paying particular attention to the constitutional aspects of the coronavirus lockdown.
The COVID-19 Crisis
Every Iranian American group has seen how rapidly the virus spread throughout Iran, affecting not only impoverished populations but also senior government officials. As the virus spread rapidly in March and April, Iranian Americans in both countries watched as public gatherings, schools and religious services were canceled. Cleaning procedures were stepped up as large-scale cleaning crews got to work, disinfecting shrines, trains and other public areas where the virus could spread rampantly. Although the importance of prayer to Iranian American culture remained high, public prayer was eventually called off to protect the health of everyone.
The Iranian Constitution and Emergency Powers
Many countries around the world have implemented strict stay-at-home measures and laws aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19. In such unprecedented times, nations have used emergency powers to make many restrictions required by law. In Iran, Islamic religious principles are at the forefront of the government’s legal and justice system, and this COVID-19 situation is no exception. The Islamic corpus juris and sharia establish the expected morality, behavior and ethics for Iranian law and communities. While the nation has not done much in the way of emergency powers before, there has been conflicts in constitutionalism and the use of emergency powers.
Rejection of Nationwide Lockdown
The past few months of the COVID-19 crisis have showcased the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani’s reluctance to utilize emergency powers in the fight against this fast-moving, deadly virus. There have been noticeable disagreements between the President and lawmakers and medical professionals. The Rouhani administration has been criticized for disregarding the Crisis Management Law passed by the Iranian Parliament last year. While the administration was meant to implement the law, it appears to have been ignored, and now the country has been one of the hardest hit and remains in the top ten in terms of confirmed cases. This time has also seen the parliament reject an emergency bill, labeled at triple urgency, for a monthlong lockdown across the country to regain control of the epidemic. Although the bill was established on the grounds of Article 79 in the Constitution, the proposal was rejected by lawmakers at the start of April for undermining and violating the Constitution.
Following the Virus Instead of Preventing It
After the overarching nationwide lockdown was rejected due to a supposed restriction on the freedom of movement, the debate deepened over the right policy to protect the nation’s people while also respecting their religious and personal beliefs. Civilian health specialists recommended the closure of shrines and public prayer spots at the start of the outbreak, but the Iranian Government did not follow these suggestions, thinking that it would be an infringement on Islamic prayer practices. In retrospect, many people now believe that these closures were not implemented quickly enough, leading to a huge spread of the virus rather than practical prevention. The virus is firmly planted in Iran now, and the Iranian Government will be tasked with making more important decisions moving forward.
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