A video about the help that Iran’s Imam Khomeini Relief Committee provides to residents of Gaza has met with anger and sparked controversy, prompting a social media campaign — using the slogan “No to Imam Khomeini Relief Committee” — that highlights the committee’s activities and argues that such funds should be distributed to Iran’s poor communities instead.
The Arabic-language video, entitled “Khomeini Relief Committee provides 300,000 Gazans with four meals a day during Ramadan,” was broadcast by Press TV, an English- and French-language subsidiary network of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), at the start of the holy Islamic month of Ramadan, reiterating the Islamic Republic’s continued support for the people of Gaza.
In the video, representatives from Palestinian groups that distribute the aid repeatedly thank Iran and the relief committee, stating that it has helped 300,0000 Palestinians this year.
Iranians turned to social media to express their anger that the committee sends aid outside the country when Iran has a large number of people living in poverty who would benefit from such support. In response to the widespread criticism, officials from the relief group claimed that the aid to other countries is financed by the committee’s revenues in those countries.
The Imam Khomeini Relief Committee was founded in March 1979 on the orders of Ayatollah Khomeini, one of several charitable organizations set up to provide support for the “oppressed” and for poor families. The committee works under the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who also appoints its CEO. The majority of its budget comes from the government, and the remainder is financed by contributions from the public and their religious dues. At present, it provides help to more than 1.6 million Iranian households, some of which receive a monthly stipend in cash.
The committee published annual reports for the years 2008 to 2013, including aid given to people in other countries, on its official website. The 2013 report reveals that it provided a wide range of financial, medical, educational and cultural aid to the people of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Tajikistan, Palestine, the Republic of Azerbaijan and to Comoros, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean.
It is these extraterritorial activities that, with the severe downturn in the Iranian economy, has angered critics. And the criticisms are growing more vociferous and more widespread day by day.
Soon after IranWire Persian published news of the recent scandal over aid to Palestinians and others abroad on June 8, the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee removed financial reports for its foreign ventures from its website.
According to the report previously available on its website, in 2013, the committee had 20 relief units in Lebanon and provided help to more than 8,000 people. In the same year, it provided more than 32,000 medical services and supported more than 4,000 seminary and other students, from primary school to university level. The relief organization’s other activities in Lebanon included the construction of 68 housing units and the repair of 647 units. The report also said that during 2013, the committee had revenues totaling $19 million in Lebanon.
The Imam Khomeini Relief Committee office in Lebanon is the organization’s biggest outside Iran. It also provides interest-free loans and other financial assistance, such as for the dowries of brides-to-be.
The group is also active in Syria, providing similar services to Syrians as it does for Lebanese people. In 2013, it was active in seven Syrian provinces and provided assistance to 143 villages. In total, it assisted 2,158 households, or 7,266 people. The report reveals that in that year, the committee provided medical services in more than 165,000 cases in Syria and assisted more than 2,630 students and seminary students. It also built or repaired 182 housing units and lent eight interest-free loans.
According to the report, the foundation paid for the care of more than 1,100 orphans and produced a revenue of $388,000 in Syria.
The Imam Khomeini Relief Committee used to be very active in Tajikistan as well. It had 87 units in the country and assisted 71 households. In 2013, the foundation also assisted 2,500 other people, provided medical services to more than 3,100 and supported 460 students and seminary students. It gave 403 families interest-free loans and provided over 5,100 students with technical training. According to the now unpublished report, the committee’s revenue from inside Tajikistan in 2013 amounted to $13,600.
In the summer of 2016, however, Tajikistan’s Justice Ministry asked the court to end the activities of the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee’s local office. The ministry stated that its activities were in violation of Tajik laws governing non-governmental organizations. As a result, the office had to suspend its activities.
The organization has also been very active in Afghanistan — although the level of support has at times been compromised due to the ongoing civil war in the country. At one point, the relief committee had to suspend its activities completely due to the increase in fighting, but these activities resumed later. The committee has 152 units across Afghanistan and is especially active in the cities of Kabul, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif and Zaranj.
In 2013, it assisted more than 3,800 Afghan families consisting of 13,000 people. It also provided medical services to more than 22,000 people, set up clinics, and paid for the education of more than 9,000 students and seminary students. It provided help for 2,600 orphans that year. The report also stated that the committee generated a revenue of $53,000 from within Afghanistan.
Iraq also benefits considerably from the committee’s initiatives. In 2013, more than 12,000 Iraqis received help from the committee, which raised more than $843,000 in charitable contributions. Its activities are mostly concentrated in the holy cities of Karbala, Najaf and Kadhimiya, although it is active in the port city of Basra as well.
The Imam Khomeini Relief Committee has 20 units in Comoros and assists the inhabitants of 320 villages in this archipelago off the east coast of Africa. In 2013, it provided medical services to 5,000 people and financed the education of around 700 students.
The most important — and the most controversial — center of the committee’s activity, however, is in Gaza. However, even prior to the removal of financial reports from the site sometime around June 8, the committee has never published information pertaining to its activities in Gaza, or presented this information to Palestinian officials.
Prior to June 8, the website reported its revenues in specific countries, but it did not provide any information about its expenses. This omission intensified speculations and questions about the money that the committee spends on its activities outside Iran.
This year’s budget was listed as 4.814 trillion tomans, or over $1.1 billion — a considerable increase on last year’s. Committee officials say that with this budget increase, it can provide help to another million people over the year. In March, Parviz Fattah, head of the committee, announced: “the number of applicants had increased by around 50 percent because the office of the president, the parliament and we ourselves have let people know that we are tripling their stipends.”
He added that, currently, the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee provides aid to around five million, three million of whom receive monthly allowances.