TEHRAN – As the United States ramps up economic sanctions on Iran, Iranians from all walks of life take to Twitter and other social media platforms to turn the spotlight on how the U.S. sanctions have negatively affected countless patients in Iran whose access to medicines was hampered by these sanctions.
Right from the start, the U.S. sought to downplay the humanitarian effect of what it calls “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran, which was launched after the White House unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal –officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – on May 8, 2018. Since then, the Trump administration has made efforts to impose “the strongest sanctions in history” against Iran in an effort to make it choose between agreeing to U.S. demands or facing economic collapse.
Nearly two weeks after Trump pulled out of the JCPOA, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo showed up at the Heritage Foundation outlining U.S. requests of Iran and threatening to inflict economic pain on Iran.
“The sting of sanctions will be painful if the regime does not change its course from the unacceptable and unproductive path it has chosen to one that rejoins the league of nations. These will indeed end up being the strongest sanctions in history when we are complete,” he said at the time.
Similarly, U.S. President Donald Trump also described his administration’s sanctions on Iran as “the highest sanctions ever imposed on a country.”
However, U.S. officials denied that their sanctions impeded the humanitarian trade with Iran including the import of food and medicines. The U.S. even sought to portray itself as the facilitator of this type of trade with Iran by launching a Swiss humanitarian trade channel, a move that failed to facilitate the import of food and medicines.
In a bid to bring into focus the humanitarian pain that the Trump administration inflicted on ordinary Iranians, Twitter users in Iran have launched an online campaign to denounce the U.S. “inhumane” sanctions. They used the hashtag “#SanctionsStory” with which they tweeted personal stories of how U.S. sanctions wreaked damage to their daily lives; from the shortage of special medicines to soaring prices of everyday goods.
“The 4-year-old daughter of one of my former Ph.D. students is dying of cancer & there is a shortage of medicine. Because of the illegal U.S. regime sanctions & economic warfare her medicine has also become prohibitively expensive. May the U.S. empire along with its enablers rot & burn,” tweeted Seyed Mohammad Marandi, a professor of English literature and orientalism at the University of Tehran.
Katayoon Lamezadeh, a journalist, tweeted, “My young first cousin passed away last week because of cancer. She needed special medications that doctors said wasn’t available. Had she taken it, she would have been next to her little daughter now, not in a grave.”
Another Twitter user said the sanctions have not only affected patients but also made life difficult for the Afghan refugees in Iran.
“Sad story of sanctions on Iranians doesn’t end here. A huge population of Afghan refugees in Iran have been devastated by U.S. sanctions. I saw firsthand, working for Intl NGO in Iran that was unable to transfer its $ from EU to IRAN just b/c of sanctions,” Kowsar Gohwari, an attorney, tweeted.
Another Twitter user who is a pharmacist has enumerated many medicines that the U.S. sanctions prevented them from entering Iran.
“USA sanctions on Iran are resulting [in] lack of most basic medical supplies such as Plavix 75, Telfast120/180, Sertraline Hexal 50/100, Detrusitol 2, Diphereline 3.75, Reuseable insulin pens, Mestinone 60, etc. ” tweeted Mahjonia.
A number of Iranian students studying abroad also joined the Sanctions Story campaign to tell their own stories with the U.S. sanctions.
Elaheh is one of these students. She said in a tweet, “Last year, I was a student in UK. I came home for a few days and I realized I needed a VPN to access my student platform from Iran. The company was American and I was banned from using it in Iran.”
Salar Afshar, another student, also tweeted, “I sent an invitation to my parents for my thesis defense. They granted my dad a visa but rejected my mum’s. It felt like they’d taken my mother hostage so my father had to return. They said sanctions have made Iranians so poor that they might not return.”
Experts believe that these stories clearly show that the U.S. sanctions are illegal under international humanitarian law.
Elham Kadkhodaee, an assistant professor of West Asian Studies at the University of Tehran, tweeted, “Sanctions are a form of collective punishment. They target civilians, irrespective of age, gender, political affiliation, religion. Collective punishment is illegal under international humanitarian law.”
But despite all their inhumane effect, the U.S. sanctions never stopped development projects in Iran, according to Zohreh Sadat, a Ph.D. student.
She tweeted, “Although sanctions cause trouble for Iran, they never halted different projects.”
Some commenters believe that no other country has faced tough circumstances as much as Iran. However, the Iranian people have patiently resisted all U.S. sanctions. Moreover, despite the hue U.S. pressures Iran has become the number one power in the Western Asia region and has made progress in many sectors, especially the knowledge-based sector.
Although the Trump administration has intensified the economic pressure on Iran since 2018, this is not the first time that Iran faces a “U.S. pressure campaign.” Over the past four decades, especially under the Obama administration, the U.S. imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran, but Iran weathered all sanctions’ storms while strengthening its economic self-sufficiency. However, Iran made it clear that it will not forget the cruelty of the powers that seek to dominate other countries. It also underlined that illegal sanctions, the discriminatory nature of the world order, the oppression of hegemonic powers, and the silence of other countries on the pressure on Iran will forever remain alive in the Iranian people’s memory.
The U.S. stands alone in its pressure against Iran. However, some countries, especially the Europeans, who claim that they do not support the U.S. policy against Iran, have chosen to be complicit in the U.S. crimes against the Iranian people by acquiescing to the U.S. pressure. After the U.S. withdrew from the JCPOA, the Europeans pledged to fulfill their commitments by facilitating the trade with Iran, but as the INSTEX mechanism showed, their pledges turned out to be empty promises.
The Europeans have seen how the U.S. sanctions impeded humanitarian trade with Iran but, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, they did nothing to fulfill their JCPOA commitments. This may be the reason why some Iranian people consider Europe to be complicit in the U.S. inhumane sanctions that have blocked the humanitarian trade channels. The European silence was on full display during the imposition of the recent U.S. sanctions on eighteen Iranian banks.
On October 8, the U.S. Department of Treasury imposed new sanctions on Iran, targeting “eighteen major Iranian banks.” U.S. Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin said the restrictions were intended to sever Iran’s ties with the global financial system.
“Today, U.S. Treasury took further action to isolate the Iranian economy from the global financial system as the regime uses the financial sector to advance its malign agenda,” Mnuchin said in a tweet.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said these sanctions were intended to block the remaining channels for humanitarian trade with Iran.
“Amid Covid19 pandemic, U.S. regime wants to blow up our remaining channels to pay for food & medicine. Iranians WILL survive this latest of cruelties. But conspiring to starve a population is a crime against humanity. Culprits & enablers—who block our money—WILL face justice,” Zarif said in a tweet.
Independent analysts also warn that U.S. sanctions are an “act of war” because they cause a shortage of the essentials of life.
“Let me say that the U.S. sanctions on Iran are an act of war. The impact on Iran is as if America was fighting a war but without bombs and bullets. Iran’s economy is being destroyed. There are shortages. Iranians lack some of the essentials of life. Patients are dying in hospitals because of a shortage of supplies. These are the fallouts of war,” Hossein Askari, a professor of International Business at the George Washington University told the Tehran Times after new financial sanctions.