Iran’s Supreme Leader has been ridiculed for claiming the country has developed a cure for blood cancer, the world’s largest telescope and a new hypersonic missile.
Iran’s clerical regime may be facing the boldest challenge to its rule since the 1979 revolution but Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a statement on Wednesday evening that claimed: “Iranian scientists and experts have done great work during these few weeks of riots in the country.”
He used his English Twitter account to announce:
Iranian scientists & experts have done great work during these few weeks of riots in the country:
developing a new cure for blood cancer,
unveiling one of the world’s largest telescopes,
unveiling a new hypersonic missile,
& launching an Iranian run refinery outside the country.
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) November 23, 2022
These claims drew immediate scrutiny for not stacking up, with Twitter users questioning whether the account was a parody.
While the new 3.4-metre medium-class optical telescope of the Iranian National Observatory on Mt Gargash in central Iran is large, there are at least 40 bigger facilities worldwide. And when the President’s Office for Science and Technology announced an Iranian-developed gene therapy for cancer last week, it said it was a copy of a method already in production by two multinational companies, not a new treatment.
As for the Revolutionary Guard aerospace force’s claim earlier this month that it had successfully developed a hypersonic missile, the Pentagon later said it was “sceptical of these reports”.
While the claims by the Supreme Leader may have been overhyped, his motivations revealed a deep insecurity in the face of nationwide protests. “These advancements increase the state’s authority and strength,” he said. “The enemy won’t dare to bother you if you increase your authority and strength. Such advancements will make us self-sufficient and strong.”
For over a decade, the Supreme Leader has spoken of the need for a “resistance economy” able to counteract the effect of Western sanctions by making Iran less reliant on the global economy and foreign technology.
But with the ongoing protests representing an internal challenge to the Islamic republic, the 83-year-old Supreme Leader has characterised the nationwide movement as a Western and Israeli orchestrated plot.
Iranian security forces have responded violently to protesters, with rights groups counting over 400 dead and detainees speaking of torture and sexual violence in detention.
That led to the UN Human Rights Council voting on Thursday in favour of holding a high-level international investigation into violations in relation to the protests. Volker Türk, the rights body’s high commissioner, said Iran faced a “fully-fledged human rights crisis” with 14,000 people arrested including children.
Khadijeh Karimi, Tehran’s representative at the Geneva talks, accused Western states of using the rights council to target Iran, a move she called “appalling and disgraceful”.
On Thursday, Ali Bagheri Kani, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, said Iran has formed its own panel to investigate deaths in recent protests. He added that about 50 police have died and hundreds have been injured in the unrest, the first official figure for deaths among security forces.