Skip to main content

Are Western sanctions against Iran to blame for playwright's death?

By Reza Sayah, CNN
October 25, 2013 -- Updated 1027 GMT (1827 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Iranians say access to life-saving drugs is difficult because of Western sanctions
  • West has imposed harsh economic sanctions for Iran's failure to suspend nuclear program
  • Economic sanctions targeting Iranian banks and energy sector have crippled Iran's economy
  • U.S. officials say Western sanctions are designed to target government, not citizens

Tehran, Iran (CNN) -- In July, Iran lost one of its most acclaimed playwrights and directors when Mahmoud Ostad-Mohammad passed away in Tehran at the age of 62.

Scores of relatives, friends, and theater lovers attended his funeral ceremony that was adorned with pictures of Ostad-Mohammad -- his trademark mustache and playful smile on display. Some wept while embracing copies of his famous screenplays.

Among the mourners was Ostad-Mohammad's daughter, Mana, who is convinced that Western sanctions against Iran were partly to blame for his father's passing.

"This was the doctor's testimony," said Mana Ostad-Mohammad. "This is based on my father's medical tests."

Through five decades, some of the most famous Iranian plays were brought to life by Ostad-Mohammad. Some were Iranian classics. Others were originals. All were stories about the loves and losses of everyday Iranians.

Then in 2011, came a diagnosis of late-stage liver cancer. Surgery was not an option, but Ostad-Mohammad's oncologist prescribed the cancer drug Nexavar. According to his doctor and medical tests, the drug appeared to stop the cancer from spreading.

Iranians can't wear blue jeans?
U.S.-Iran relations changing in Iran?
Israeli Air Force pilots warn Iran
Iranian President Rouhani on Twitter

"We were very hopeful that if he gets through this stage, he could get healthy and start living his life again," said his daughter Mana.

But beginning last year -- soon after Washington and Western powers imposed additional sanctions against Iran to rein in its nuclear program -- Iranian doctors, pharmacists and patients say finding Nexavar and several other drugs that treated deadly diseases became increasingly difficult.

Western powers have stepped up the pressure on Iran since 2006, when the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to impose new sanctions for Tehran's failure to suspend its nuclear program. The European Union imposed further sanctions last year.

U.S. officials have long said medical goods are exempt from the measures and that Western sanctions are specifically designed to target the government, not ordinary Iranians.

But Iranian officials say with the Western ban on Iranian banks doing business with much of the outside world, even medical goods that are exempt from the sanctions are often impossible to import.

"We have a serious shortage of drugs due to high prices or because they're impossible to purchase," says Tehran-based pharmacist Imen Heirani.

Heirani said everyday he gets as many as 30 calls a day from patients looking for hard-to-find drugs.

"They're obviously tired because they've been searching for a while."

Mana was getting tired too. This year, finding Nexavar -- the drug that helped keep her father alive -- became harder than ever.

"It was very unexpected," said Mana. "For 18 months we could easily get the drug but now we couldn't. We didn't know what to do."

Searching for the drug became Mana's daily mission.

If pharmacies in Tehran didn't have Nexavar, Mana would open her phone book and start dialing pharmacies in other Iranian cities like Tabriz, Isfahan and Mashad.

But last March finding Nexavar became virtually impossible, she says.

Medical tests then showed her father's feto-protein level -- an indicator of cancer -- skyrocketed over the four months he went without Nexavar.

On July 25, Ostad-Mohammad lost his fight with cancer. Iran lost a beloved playwright. And a daughter lost a father who she believes was a victim of Western sanctions and a political conflict that had nothing to do with him.

"More than being angry, I think about how simple-minded politicians are," she said.

"Sanctions are impacting the people, not the groups politicians say they're impacting."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
The possibility of pockets of air remaining within the hull of the sunken South Korean ferry offers hope to rescuers -- and relatives -- say experts.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Despite hundreds still missing after the sinking of a South Korean ferry, reports of text messages keep hope alive that there may be survivors yet.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1614 GMT (0014 HKT)
An Iranian mother slaps and then forgives her 17-year old son's murderer in dramatic scenes at the gallows.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests or political reform are still censored in China.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2131 GMT (0531 HKT)
Russia's propaganda worse now than at height of Cold War, says Leon Aron, director of Russian studies at AEI.
Sanctions imposed against Russia are working as a deterrent, President Barack Obama and other White House senior administration officials said.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 0440 GMT (1240 HKT)
A lack of progress in the search for MH370 is angering the families of victims.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1509 GMT (2309 HKT)
The searches for the Titanic and Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 share common techniques.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
An "extraordinary" video shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
This year's Pyongyang marathon was open to foreign amateurs.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1230 GMT (2030 HKT)
Explore each side's case, reconstructed from Pistorius' court affidavit and the prosecution's case during last year's bail hearing.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
How are police preparing for this year's 26.2-mile marathon, which takes place Monday?
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1702 GMT (0102 HKT)
Katrina Karkazis
Romance is hard, for anyone. For people with intersex traits, love poses unique challenges.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2126 GMT (0526 HKT)
The "kill switch," a system for remotely disabling smartphones and wiping their data, will become standard in 2015.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1028 GMT (1828 HKT)
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
ADVERTISEMENT