As faces of the homeless emerge from graves, their plight appals Iranians
The images are stark and confronting, the stuff of real-life horror and sadness.
Photos of homeless drug addicts living in empty graves just outside the Iranian capital have deeply shocked the public and prompted reactions even from President Hassan Rouhani.
Shahrvand newspaper on Tuesday published the images by photographer by Saeed Gholamhoseini in a report on the homeless people - about 50 men and women - who dwell in a cemetery in the town of Shahriar, 30km west of Tehran.
The story and the haunting images of the homeless staring into the camera from inside the unused grave slots spread quickly on social media, where users and celebrities reacted with expressions of alarm and grief.
In one of the images published this week, a grime-streaked man emerges out of a grave, smoke from a fire inside rising around him. Others huddle for warmth, smoking.
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.
“With this letter, I intend to share my shame with you and all those who have had any responsibility in this country” in the past few decades, he added.
The president responded to Farhadi’s “painful” letter on Wednesday.
“Who can see human beings hurt from social issues who take shelter in graves... and not feel ashamed?” Rouhani said in a speech about government supervision.
“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,” he said.
“To solve these issues we must all unite and leave aside partisan issues and differences and address the basic problems of the country.”
In a follow-up report, Shahrvand said the grave-dwellers were forcibly removed from the cemetery, after promises from authorities to resolve the issue.
Some of those who lived in the graves had done so for 10 years, according to the daily.
“Aren’t we humans? Are we foreigners? We are Iranian too,” an unnamed homeless man told the newspaper in a video.
He asked authorities to build a shelter in the area.
The report is a rare glimpse into the lives of homeless people in the Iranian capital.
In October another report on homeless people occupying in sewage canals on Tehran’s highways triggered similar reactions.
Poverty has worsened in recent years in Iran.
The official unemployment rate has risen to 12.7 per cent this year from 10.6 per cent in 2014, while joblessness among teens and young adults has reached 27 per cent.
Rouhani said the government cannot accept seeing the homeless living in such conditions. His comments come ahead of Iran’s presidential election in May, in which Rouhani is expected to seek a second four-year term.
Additional reporting by Associated Press