Graves for the LIVING: Shock at harrowing images of homeless living in cemeteryPublished by International Liberty Association on December 31, 2016
HARROWING images of homeless people forced to sleep in empty graves at a cemetery have provoked international outcry.
The shocking photographs were shot by Saeed Gholamhoseini for the Shahrvand daily newspaper, and showed around 50 men, women and children living in the cemetery in Shahriar, some 12 miles west of Tehran, in Iran.
At least 300 pre-prepared graves have been built inside the burial plot, with around 20 of them being used as shelter by rough sleepers – sometimes by one person but often by families of up to four, who squeeze into the cramped holes for shelter at night.
In one of the shocking images, an ash-covered man is seen rising from out of a grave as smoke from a fire he had lit to keep warm billowed around him.
Inside his makeshift home, which he had covered with a tarpaulin sheet thick with dirt, the unnamed man rolls a cigarette over a ring bound journal as he sits crouched beside a filthy backpack.
Other images showed people gathered together and smoking for warmth, while one woman crouches under the remains of a derelict building.
Some are believed to have lived in the cemetery for as long as 10 years.
A guard at the graveyard said: “The first days they came here, we forced them out, but the number of them is high, and they have no other place to go.
“Some of them were taken to a drug rehabilitation centre, but many of them escaped and returned here.”
He added: “Almost all of them are addicts.”
The haunting images spread quickly on social media, where both activists and celebrities reacted with expressions of alarm and sadness.
In a post on Twitter, one anonymous user called Maktoub shared a photo of one of the graves against the palace-like tomb of the founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Khomeini, who was once quoted as saying: “I prefer the ‘slum dwellers’ to the ‘palace dwellers.’”
Oscar-winning film director Asghar Farhadi wrote an open letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, saying: ”Today, I read a shocking report about men, women and children who are living in graves of a cemetery near Tehran in these cold nights and now I am full of shame and have tears in my eyes.”
Rouhani, who is likely to seek reelection next year, was quick to respond, saying: “We had heard some poor and homeless people are sleeping in cartons or under bridges, but we hadn’t heard about them sleeping in tombs!
“To solve these issues we must all unite and leave aside partisan issues and differences and address the basic problems of the country.”
But Mr Rouhani has faced bitter criticism from opposition activists, who claim the president is trying to solve a problem by wiping it out completely.
The homeless men and women have now been forcibly removed from the cemetery after the authorities promised to resolve the issue.
It is not known where they were taken to and if they were rehoused, but one homeless man told reporters: “A group of officials came here early in the morning and beat us out of here, now we don’t have even an empty grave to sleep in.”
Shahin Gobadi of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), told Express.co.uk: “The big question is, what happened to the tens of billions of dollars of unfrozen assets after the nuclear agreement?
“The tragedy of grave-sleepers is another clear sign that the money was plundered by the regime’s highest officials and was spent on supporting Syrian dictator Bashar Assad for the massacre of the residents of Aleppo, suppression at home and missile production.
“The remarks by the regime’s president Hassan Rouhani claiming that he was unaware of this situation is nothing but sheer demagogy and a futile attempt to evade growing public outrage and fury.”
A spokesman from the International Liberty Association said: “It was very disturbing, the news about the people sleeping in the graves.
“So much money is being used in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, but obviously the money would be better spent to improve lives of Iranians.
“Iran is one of the richest countries for natural resources but most of the money is being plundered by the officials.
“The people in Iran are suffering. They need our help. The international community needs to do more.”
The images are a rare glimpse into the lives of the homeless in Iran, which has been accused of shocking human rights abuses during Mr Rouhani’s reign.
Poverty has also worsened in Iran in recent years.
While the official unemployment rate has risen to 12.7 per cent his year, from 10.6 per cent in 2014, as the number of jobless teens and young adults reached 27 per cent.
The Iranian Embassy in London has been contacted for comment.
Source: By VICKIIE OLIPHANT – www.express.co.uk