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The Farda Briefing: Poor Iranians Sell Their Organs Amid Deepening Economic Crisis

One-third of Iran's population reportedly lives in extreme poverty. Some people are so poor that they have resorted to selling their organs on the black market to make ends meet. (file photo)
One-third of Iran's population reportedly lives in extreme poverty. Some people are so poor that they have resorted to selling their organs on the black market to make ends meet. (file photo)

Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. To subscribe, click here.

I'm RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here's what I've been following during the past week and what I'm watching for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

An Iranian newspaper has reported that an increasing number of poverty-stricken Iranians are selling their organs to make ends meet.

The daily Jahan-e Sanat said in a May 4 report that kidneys, bone marrow, parts of livers, and “anything else that can be transplanted is being bought and sold on the black market” in Iran.

The newspaper said many of the organ sellers are men and women aged between 18 and 45. Some of them, the report said, have attempted to sell their organs in neighboring countries, including Turkey, for up to $15,000.

A 37-year-old mother-of-two told Jahan-e Sanat that she will sell one of her kidneys so her family can survive. Similarly, a 22-year-old man said his dire finances have forced him to consider selling part of his liver.

Meanwhile, Iran’s reformist Etemad daily reported on May 3 that a growing number of Iranians are unable to buy meat due to soaring prices. The newspaper said that some people have tried to exchange food items like yogurt and cheese for meat at stores.

The daily quoted a butcher in Tehran as saying that the “sale of chicken meat has decreased by 50 percent in the past few months” and the “situation regarding red meat is even worse.”

On May 6, the judiciary summoned the chief editors of Jahan-e Sanat and Etemad to “provide documentation regarding the publication of undocumented materials.” Since then, Jahan-e Sanat removed its report from its website. Etemad’s article was still accessible as of May 10.

Why It Matters: The reports have highlighted the deepening economic crisis in Iran, which has witnessed soaring inflation, rising unemployment, and growing poverty in recent years.

A report by the Labor Ministry released in January suggested that the number of people living under the poverty line has doubled over the past year. It said one-third of the population of around 88 million lives in extreme poverty.

The official inflation rate is about 50 percent, although the prices of some food items have risen by 70 percent. Meanwhile, the national currency, the rial, dropped to a record low against the U.S. dollar in February.​

What’s Next: The worsening economic situation has fueled street protests in recent years. More demonstrations by workers are likely in the months ahead.

Many Iranians have blamed the government of ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi, who came to power in 2021 promising to improve an economy devastated by crippling U.S. sanctions and years of mismanagement.

The authorities have responded to the criticism by cracking down on media outlets that have published reports critical of the government.

Lawmaker Gholamali Jafarzadeh warned in January that poverty and unemployment are likely to rise further, adding that many Iranians face “a darker life.”​

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Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar visits her homeland every year to mark the day that her parents were murdered in 1998. She opens her family home in Tehran to dissidents and catches up on the latest developments. Now back in her studio in Germany, she revealed her latest works and told RFE/RL how her most recent trip to Iran revealed a society going through profound change that the regime was increasingly unable to control.​

What We're Watching

Iran on May 10 announced that three men were executed outside Tehran after being convicted of drug-related offences.

Two days earlier, the authorities announced the executions of two men on blasphemy charges. Yousef Mehrad and Sadrollah Fazeli Zare were accused of using social media to promote "atheism and insulting religious and Islamic sanctities.”

Their executions followed the May 6 hanging of Swedish-Iranian dissident Hamid Chaab who was accused of leading a terrorist group and convicted of spreading “corruption on earth.”​

Why It Matters: The six hangings came amid a surge in executions in the Islamic Republic, which is among the top executioners in the world.

A spokesman for the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said on May 9 that Iran had executed 209 people so far this year, describing its record as "abominable."

Human rights groups have said Iran’s escalating use of the death penalty is aimed at spreading fear in society amid growing opposition to the clerical establishment.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

About This Newsletter

The Farda Briefing

The Farda Briefing is an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. Written by senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari and other reporters from Radio Farda.

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