Iran: Suspected targeted poison attacks affect girls from 50+ schools
A string of suspected targeted poisonings of schoolgirls in Iran has triggered a wave of panic in the country. Authorities confirmed that students of more than 50 schools were hit by alleged poisonings, which began in November last year and has spread to 21 of Iran's 30 provinces. Around 700 schoolgirls have been poisoned by toxic gas since November, according to a BBC report.
Why does this story matter?
- The development follows months of mass protests led by women against Iran's clerical regime, which erupted after the custodial death of Mahsa Amini.
- The 22-year-old was arrested by Iran's morality police in September for wearing the hijab improperly, following which women came out en masse in Amini's support.
- The poison attacks are being speculated as a revenge tactic of fundamentalist groups against such protesters.
Children experienced temporary paralysis of limbs, respiratory problems, nausea
These incidents are seen as a covert attempt by hardline Islamist groups to shut down girls' schools. Victims reported a pungent smell similar to that of rotten tangerines, chlorine, or cleaning agents, following which they suffered headaches, dizziness, respiratory problems, and nausea. Some also experienced temporary paralysis of the limbs. Videos on social media showed children complaining about pain in the legs and abdomen.
Religious groups opposed to girls' education suspected
Iran said it would investigate a wave of poisonings of female students. Hundreds of Iranian girls in different schools have suffered 'mild poison' attacks in recent months, the health minister said pic.twitter.com/J1ugqDfMND— Reuters (@Reuters) March 2, 2023
Investigation says act appears to be premeditated
Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi has announced an investigation into the matter. Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said that they found "suspicious samples" during their investigation while the prosecutor general opened a criminal probe into the matter, citing that the act appeared to be "premeditated." Vahidi called on the people to remain calm and also accused the "enemy's media terrorism" of creating panic among the people.
No death has been recorded officially
Although no death has been officially recorded in relation to these incidents, an 11-year-old student, Fatemeh Rezei, allegedly died in one such incident last week. However, doctors reportedly said that she was not poisoned, but an acute infection caused her death.
Iran called on Taliban to allow education for women, girls
Notably, education for girls hasn't been popularly opposed in Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. In fact, Tehran has also called on the Taliban government in neighboring Afghanistan to allow girls and women to go to schools and colleges. However, Iran has detained around 100 journalists since the beginning of the protests in September 2022, which saw the death of around 530 people.