Iran schoolgirls allegedly poisoned in attempt to close schools, authorities investigating

Click to play video: 'Iran to investigate poisoning of hundreds of school girls, US calls it ‘deeply concerning’'
Iran to investigate poisoning of hundreds of school girls, US calls it ‘deeply concerning’
WATCH ABOVE: Iran to investigate poisoning of hundreds of school girls, US calls it 'deeply concerning' – Mar 2, 2023

Iranian authorities are investigating reports that hundreds of schoolgirls have been intentionally poisoned by noxious fumes wafting into classrooms at predominantly all-girls schools.

Dozens of schoolgirls in Iranian cities like Qom and Borujerd have reportedly been hospitalized as a result of the attacks. About 30 schools in the region have been targets of the poisonings, according to reports by local media.

Iran’s deputy education minister Younes Panahi confirmed Sunday to the state-run IRNA news agency that “some people wanted all schools, especially girls’ schools, to be closed.” He added that “a large percentage” of the chemicals used to allegedly poison students are “treatable.”

The Guardian spoke to Masih Alinejad, an Iranian human rights activist based in New York, who claimed the attacks are possibly “revenge by the Islamic Republic” against school-aged girls who have been at the forefront of the country’s ongoing protests.
Story continues below advertisement
Click to play video: 'UN human rights office calls for transparent probe of Iranian school girl poisonings'
UN human rights office calls for transparent probe of Iranian school girl poisonings

Large protests have persisted in Iran since September, when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in the custody of the country’s theocratic “morality police.” Amini was accused of violating the country’s modesty laws. Initial protests following Amini’s death focused on Iran’s strict dress code dictating what women can wear, though they have since expanded into broader calls for a regime change. Thousands of people are in prison for participating in the protests.

Women hold up drawings of Iranian Mahsa Amini as they shout slogans during a protest against her death, outside Iran’s general consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on  Sept. 21, 2022. AP

The first reported instance of the alleged school poisonings came in November at the Noor Yazdanshahr Conservatory in Qom, about 125 kilometres from Iran’s capital, Tehran. In December, students at the conservatory were reportedly poisoned again.

Story continues below advertisement

As recently as Tuesday another all-girls school in Pardis, just over 40 kilometres from Tehran, experienced a suspected attack.

Allegedly, at least one boy’s school has also been targeted in the string of poisonings.

Those apparently affected by the noxious fumes have complained of headaches, heart palpitations, feeling lethargic or being unable to move. Fears of carbon monoxide poisoning in schools have been dismissed.

Parents of students in the affected regions have confronted education officials in an attempt to gain information about the poisonings, as per Bloomberg.

There are no known suspects. The attacks have raised fears that the schoolgirls could have been poisoned apparently just for seeking an education — something that’s never been challenged before in the over 40 years since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran itself also has been calling on the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan to have girls and women return to school.

Story continues below advertisement

Attacks on women have happened in the past in Iran, most recently with a wave of acid attacks in 2014 around Isfahan, at the time believed to have been carried out by hard-liners targeting women for how they dressed. But even in the chaos surrounding the Islamic Revolution, no one targeted schoolgirls for attending classes.

— With files from The Associated Press

Sponsored content