Sympathy and Anger in Iran after Media Publish Report on ’Grave-Sleepers’
Moderate or pro-reform administrations go hand in hand with freedom of the press, not only because they advocate such values, but also due to the fact that Principlists could find more pretexts to attack rivals for their own political purposes. One is just handed.
About fifty homeless people, known as ‘cardboard-sleepers’, have turned into grave-sleepers for the cold season in Nasirabad, a rural district near Shahriar County, southwest of Tehran.
“Grave-sleepers have come back. Each slips down an empty grave. In the dark, they will busy themselves abusing drugs or think of things we do not know,” wrote Maryam Roustaei in a cover story Shahrvand daily published on Tuesday. According to the report, some 50 homeless people have occupied at least 20 empty graves in a local cemetery, some living in a group of three or four in the narrow space of a grave. “Ripped banners, worn-out blanket pieces, half-burnt wooden boards are pulled over graves one by one. They live death,” read the story.
According to the cemetery guard who has spoken with Shahrvand, people in the impoverished district have seen so many ‘cardboard-sleepers’ they are vaccinated against and indifferent to them. Only charity may help. A group visited the cemetery in the eve of Yalda night, celebration of winter solstice, to offer food and fruits to the gave-sleepers but they did not show up. “They want to trick us and take us to rehab. I was so scared I wandered in the deserts around until 3 a.m. Who would want to help us? People hurt us whenever they see us,” said a woman who overheard the interview with the guard, wrote Shahrvand.
Yashar Tabrizi, who directed the charity group’s Yalda campaign, told Shahrvand he found about the homeless in the cemetery about three weeks ago. His goal is to help coordinate charities in order to save these homeless people, particularly the women and children. “Ali is eight and addicted. He spends some nights in the graveyard. To establish a bond and motivate Ali, we bought him some warm clothes. He wants to quit. We want to give him the support for that to happen,” Tabrizi said. Apart from charities and NGOs, even the education ministry has promised good offices, according to Tabrizi.
The easy access to drugs trafficked from neighboring Afghanistan has raised concerns about a drugs epidemic, which is increasingly taking younger victims. Even death penalty for drug smugglers, itself a sticky human rights issue between Iran and the West, have not helped intimidate the mafia behind.
Soon after going online, the story started to arouse ire and fanfare from ordinary people. Some users on Twitter called it ‘live burial’ of poverty and misery while others noted the bitter irony that these homeless people could not rest in these graves if they die, for they cannot afford to buy one. Some even thought aloud, saying mosques could be a shelter for the increasing number of homeless people.
By afternoon, when the report dominated every news outlet in Iran as well as some overseas, officials vowed to investigate the issue.
The administration’s bureau for public relations emphasized investigation of the issue, calling for media to continue their pursuit. Iran’s welfare ministry said it was prepared to shelter them through the state welfare organization.
The attorney general of Shahriar County also ordered the local commissariat, welfare organization and the city hall to work for immediate settlement of the homeless group, state-run Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported.
However, the well-intent story seems to have backfired on the cemetery dwellers. When the governor of Shahriar visited the cemetery, accompanied by a number of reporters, the entourage only found one homeless man, named Behrouz, still there. As media outlets have quoted him saying, the morning the report was published ‘cops’ and agents from the municipality had come to beat the homeless and seize their ragged belongings, trying to make them leave the cemetery.
Many Iranian celebrities have deluged their social media accounts with messages offering sympathy and aide. Internationally acclaimed Iranian director and Academy Award winner Asghar Farhadi published an open letter on Tuesday night, addressing President Hassan Rouhani, saying he was deeply embarrassed and wanted to make officials share his feelings. Hassan Rouhani reacted to the letter early on Wednesday saying everyone living in Iran will be sensitive.
For now, the grave-sleepers have been evacuated from their last resort as a shelter, in a bid to move them to warming centers.
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