Suspected poisonings at girls’ schools in Iran leave dozens hospitalized


Dozens of students in Iran were hospitalized for suspected poisoning this week, the latest development in a series of cases that appear to be targeting mostly girls’ schools across the country.

Emergency services in Pardis, on the outskirts of Tehran, transported 37 schoolgirls for treatment on Tuesday, a school official told Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency. He said the students suffered from “mild poisoning” and added that all the girls were expected to recover.

Separately on the same day, the activist-run Human Rights Activists News Agency mentionted that several other female students fell ill in the city of Qom, south of the capital, where many of the suspected poisonings have occurred.

Such incidents have been reported in 10 to 15 cities across Iran in recent months, Abdulali Rahimi Mozafari, a member of Iran’s parliament, said on Tuesday, according to the Entekhab news website. The number of affected students across the country is unclear, but Zahra Sheikhi, a spokeswoman for Iran’s Health Commission, said on Wednesday that 800 students had suffered “mild poisoning” in Qom alone in recent months, the reformist Shargh newspaper reported.

While some boys appear to have fallen ill, Iranian media reports that the vast majority of cases were in girls’ schools. No deaths have been reported.

Iran’s Health Minister Bahram Einolahi visited Qom on Tuesday, saying the poison was “very mild” and that the students’ symptoms included muscle weakness, lethargy and nausea, Iran’s Student News Agency reported. According to the Associated Press, some of the children described smelling tangerines, chlorine or cleaners. Seihi, a spokesman for the Health Commission, said the poison appeared to have been inhaled.

The cause of the poisonings remains unknown. Last week, Iran’s Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri ordered an investigation and said the spate of poisonings “indicates the possibility of intentional criminal acts.”

On Sunday, Iranian news agencies quoted Younes Panahi, deputy health minister, as saying that schools were being deliberately targeted. He told reporters that the culprits “wanted to close all schools, especially girls’ schools,” according to Iran’s Ettelaat newspaper. He later denied making the comments, saying he could not confirm whether the poisonings were intentional or why they happened.

Alireza Monadi, another member of Iran’s parliament who serves on the education committee, also said Sunday, without providing details, that an “ill will and thinking” behind the attacks sought to “deter the children of this country, especially girls, from Education is a major risk and is seen as very bad news.’

While education in Iran is only compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 11, Iran’s government has a strong focus on education, with female students making up more than 50 percent of Iran’s university student bodies, according to the World Bank. Tehran has repeatedly pressured the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan to overturn a ban on girls’ education.

Students in Iran are risking everything to rise up against the government

The families of the affected students in Qom, an important site of Shiite Muslim shrines and scholarship, recently staged a protest to demand that authorities act to end the string of poisonings, the state-run Hamshahri newspaper reported.

The country has already been rocked by months of protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly wearing a hijab inappropriately in public. While the protests began with women’s clothing, they turned into rallies against the country’s theocratic state and united all ages, genders, ethnicities and classes. It is unclear at this point if the suspected poisonings are connected to these protests.

Students played a key role in the protests, and more than 700 of them were arrested, according to the Voluntary Committee to Monitor the Status of Prisoners.

Authorities have launched a brutal response, with activist news agency HRANA reporting that at least 530 protesters have been killed since the unrest began in mid-September. At least four protesters have been executed, while others have been sentenced to death.

Videos show evidence of escalating crackdown on protests in Iran

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