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“Grave Sleepers” Angers Iranians, President Apologizes | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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London – A series of photos showing people living in grave yards outside the Iranian capital, Tehran, have prompted reactions from both people and officials.

During a conference about government supervision, President Hasan Rouhani said he received an open letter from an artist about the issue of the grave sleepers.

“Who can see human beings hurt from social issues who take shelter in graves…. and not feel ashamed?” Rouhani said in a speech.

Rouhani compared the situation in Iran with that in the European countries and other parts of the world. He added: “I have heard about people in Western countries who sleep on cardboard under bridges out of poverty, or those who sleep in metro stations, but not in graves.”

“To solve these issues we must all unite and leave aside partisan issues and differences and address the basic problems of the country,” he stressed.

“Who can, in a great country like Iran,… see that some of their fellow countrymen, who have been affected by social harm, take shelter in graves due to helplessness?,” added the Iranian president.

Oscar-winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi aired his frustration in a letter to Rouhani. “I read the report… and now my entire being is filled with shame and sorrow,” he wrote.

The president said that seeing people living in such conditions was “unacceptable” to both the Iranian government and nation and called on all to join hands to address such problems.

The official unemployment rate has risen to 12.7 percent this year from 10.6 percent in 2014, while joblessness among teens and young adults has reached 27 percent.

Farhadi’s letter was headlined in several Iranian newspapers.

Shahrvand newspaper on Tuesday published the images in a report on the homeless people — about 50 men and women — who dwell in a cemetery in the town of Shahriar, 30 kilometers west of Tehran.

Many vented their frustrations and anger on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using hashtags like grave dwellers and the homeless.

In a follow-up story on December 28, Shahrvand said the homeless were forcibly removed from the graveyard by security forces after local officials pledged to take action, which also caused a wave of outrage over social media.

Sayyed Hossein Hashemi, the governor of Tehran, denied the use of force and described the dwellers as “hardcore addicts,” according to the semiofficial ISNA news agency.

“The publication of reports that these people had nothing to eat and were hungry was unkind and ill-advised because it should be taken into account that these people are hard-core addicts,” he said in remarks, adding that the dwellers had been transferred to a nearby rehabilitation camp.

President Rouhani said in his speech that the government should do its best not to lose public confidence.He underscored that the Iranian government attaches great importance to supervision and inspection in running the country.

He reiterated that lack of supervision would increase the likelihood of corruption in the society.

‘In cases of financial corruption, if the questions raised by people are not properly answered, then the government loses public confidence which is worse than losing billions of dollars,’ said the president.

The president added that investigating a case should result in the criminal disciplined and preventing the crime from happening again.

“The judiciary should be trusted among people for its honesty. The judiciary should act in a way that prevents crimes from happening,” he stressed.

The President also continued: “We need public supervision more; people should be involved in supervision.”

In the case of corruption, Rouhani raised the question of “How did the $3bn embezzlement happen in the previous governments’ tenure with all these supervisory bodies?”

Rouhani was referring to the case of Babak Zanjani who was sentenced to death, after Ministry of Oil filed a case against him. Zanjani refused to return to return the money he received from selling Iranian oil in the black market.