A doctor was due to appear in court on Saturday, April 4 for providing coronavirus updates on Instagram, and after having received at least eight summons and multiple death threats.
Rahim Yousefpour, an internal medicine specialist who has practiced medicine in Saqqez in Iran’s Kurdistan province for many years, has been posting videos on Instagram for the last 45 days, informing and updating people about the spread of coronavirus virus and the COVID-19 disease. In addition to talking about symptoms, transmission, and prevention methods, Yousefpour informs his audience about the escalation of the disease and the number of patients in Saqqez.
In a video posted on Instagram on Friday, April 3, the specialist doctor said he had received eight summons from the court during the Iranian new year holidays for reporting the truth and said he was due to appear in court in Saqqez on Saturday, April 4. He made further ambiguous comments that may have been a hint that he had received death threats or been threatened with arrest, saying that if people did not hear from him it was not because he had contracted COVID-19 or that he had been involved in a car accident.
Saqqez has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the province. According to official figures, the number of people infected with COVID-19 in Saqqez had reached 172 cases by Friday, April 3. And yet, weeks before, during Yousefpour’s daily video on March 9, he said the number of patients in Saqqez had reached four-digit figures, a revelation that the deputy director of treatment at the University of Medical Sciences in Kurdistan province appeared to ignore.
The doctor told IranWire that the information he had posted, including the actual number of people infected with the coronavirus in Saqqez, had let agents from the Intelligence Unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to put pressure on him to stop posting and summoned him to report to the Cyber Police (FATA). In recent weeks, the pressure has been stepped up, and Yousefpour has received several death threats.
IranWire spoke to Dr. Yousefpour about his summons and the pressure he has faced.
Dr. Yousefpour, in your latest video posted on Instagram, you stated that you had received eight notices to appear in court. Why have you been summoned?
I have been summoned to court for issuing medical warnings and for asking the people of Saqqez not to go out in the city and stay in their homes. Unfortunately, in the first few days, my warnings were not given enough attention, and the number of people infected in Saqqez increased to more than a thousand — and I announced this in one of my posts. I have now been accused of presenting false information to the public and disturbing public opinion.
Can you give us details about your forthcoming court appearance and the case against you? Will your lawyer be present?
I have to appear at branch three of the Saqqez General Court on Saturday, April 4. I don't have a lawyer; many lawyers have called to represent me, but my preference is not to have a lawyer. I will go to court alone, and since I haven't done anything wrong, I will naturally go back to my practice. But if they want to arrest me, well, they will. I am not a political activist and I have only done my duty to raise awareness about the disease and the health of the people. I think that Kamil Karimian, the governor of Saqqez, has performed very well during this period, and during this time he has cooperated very well with medical staff, including me. If there is a problem in court, he will support me. I have no other guarantee. As for the plaintiff, I don't know who or what organization lodged a complaint against me, but I think it may be the IRGC Intelligence Unit.
There have also been rumors online that you have been contacted and pressured by the security services because of the information you have provided.
Yes, before the IRGC Intelligence Unit contacted me, they [the security services] called me and said I had published a video stating that the number of coronavirus patients in Saqqez has increased to four-digit figures, and that this was an example of me spreading rumors. I said I hadn't spread rumors and I had enough evidence to prove it. I was summoned to the FATA police several times. I handed over documents and evidence to FATA that proved that the number of people infected with the coronavirus in Saqqez is over a thousand cases, and I said, "Why don't you accept the facts?" I emphasized that because of the intelligence I provided, the city's security forces were forced to quarantine the city and to restrict traffic.
In the same video in which you refer to the court summons, you said you are safe and that you were not going to have an accident. Does that mean you have been threatened?
Yes. Exactly what I meant was that I am in good health and I am not planning to go away anytime soon. Unlike some of my colleagues, I plan to be in my office on Saturday afternoon and visit patients so, if I'm not in my office on Saturday, something might have happened to me.
How have the Saqqez city officials treated you and your decision to inform the people directly?
Mr. Kamel Karimian, the governor of Saqqez, is a good human being with a high level of understanding and intelligence. On the other hand, unfortunately, there are departments that do not understand what is happening at all, and those who call and threaten me. When it’s an unknown number, then it does not matter who is being threatened — whether it’s a doctor, the governor of the city, or even the president, who has brought the country to this point. The fact is that you are being threatened.
Part of the issue is the crisis management. How do you, as a doctor at the forefront of the coronavirus virus fight, evaluate this management?
This is exactly what separates the medical staff from the top management. The negative view toward the medical staff in a section of society has changed dramatically the way doctors and nurses work in this crisis. But has Mr. Rouhani, whose speeches and positions on this crisis have often been irrelevant and incorrect, even come a kilometer away from any hospital in recent days? Does he dare to do that at all? The honorable minister of health will come to Saqqez and visit one of the hospitals in this city. He will be wearing suitable protective clothing — equipment medical staff have not had access to. Currently, about 40 medical staff at Saqqez Imam Hospital have contracted the coronavirus and are undergoing quarantine at home. Forget about Saqqez, just visit one of the hospitals in Tehran where there are patients with coronavirus. See the conditions we are working in and what the reality of the disease is, and then take a stand and talk.
When did you begin working with the COVID-19 disease in Saqqez, and when did you first see patients with symptoms that we now know are the symptoms of coronavirus?
In Saqqez, we have been dealing with patients with coronavirus symptoms for two and a half months — that is, since January 20, 2020. During this period in my practice alone I have visited an average of more than 10 patients with symptoms of COVID-19 daily. After examining the symptoms and seeing the results of laboratory, chest radiology and pulmonary CT-scan tests, I ordered them to be hospitalized or quarantined at home. I can say that I have visited at least a thousand patients with COVID-19 in Saqqez. I can't give the total number of patients, but in general, the statistics and specifications of all patients who have been quarantined and treated at home with the diagnosis of COVID-19 in Saqqez have been recorded in two hospitals in the city.
Do you have any figures on the death rate from COVID-19 in Saqqez?
It is not my duty to provide statistics, of course. The officials of the city or provincial health department must announce these statistics. I can only say that out of the COVID-19 patients who have been under my care, eight have died.
Officials have said the number of people infected with the coronavirus in the country has dropped. Can this claim be confirmed in Saqqez?
The course of the disease in Saqqez is almost declining. But the reality is that people must stay in their homes for four weeks and continue this quarantine situation so that we don't get caught up again. But naturally, people can't stay in their homes for four weeks because the government has to provide for their living. How can a person who has no bread to eat, without working, stay in quarantine for a month? A person who is not hungry and does not need to go out will not endanger his life. But a million-toman (U$70.00) low-interest loan does not solve any of the people’s problems. Rohani makes everything look normal on the television. He cannot honestly say that this is the disease, and this is our possibilities; they should calculate and talk about the methods and the cost and stop lying and making false promises.