- Since late November, hundreds of cases of respiratory poisoning have been reported among schoolgirls, mainly in Qom
- On Sunday, deputy health minister Younes Panahi implicitly confirmed poisonings had been deliberate
Iranian girls have been poisoned in recent weeks in a bid to force them to stop attending school out of apparent ‘revenge’ for protests against the compulsory hijab, it has emerged.
Since late November, hundreds of cases of respiratory poisoning have been reported among schoolgirls mainly in Qom, south of Tehran, with some needing hospital treatment.
On Sunday, Iran’s deputy health minister, Younes Panahi, implicitly confirmed the poisonings had been deliberate. So far, there have been no arrests.
Speaking anonymously, a doctor who specialises in the treatment of poisoning victims claimed that the girls were targeted out of ‘revenge’ as schoolgirls have been pioneers of recent protests in the country.
Iran was swept by protests following the death of a young Iranian Kurdish woman in the custody of the country’s morality police last September. Iranians from all walks of life took part, marking one of the boldest challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution.
Addressing the spate of poisonings on Sunday, Panahi told reporters: ‘After the poisoning of several students in [the city of] Qom … it was found that some people wanted all schools, especially girls’ schools, to be closed.’
He added: ‘It has been revealed that the chemical compounds used to poison students are not war chemicals … the poisoned students do not need aggressive treatment and a large percentage of the chemical agents used are treatable.’
On February 14, parents of students who had been ill gathered outside the city’s governorate to ‘demand an explanation’ from the authorities, IRNA reported.
The following day, government spokesman Ali Bahadori Jahromi said the education and intelligence ministries were trying to determine the cause of the poisonings.
Last week, Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri ordered a judicial probe into the incidents.
Dr Homayoun Sameyah Najafabadi, a member of the parliament’s health commission, also confirmed the poisoning of the students ‘in cities such as Qom and Borujerd has been done intentionally’.
The doctor who specialises in the treatment of poisoning victims told the Guardian: ‘With the data that’s available, the most probable cause of this poisoning could be a weak organophosphate agent. Even if some of the poisoned pupils show a sign of severe sweating, excess salivation, vomiting, intestinal hypermotility and diarrhoea, then the attack was done using this agent.’
The doctor said they believed the aim was to ‘scare the protesters by using extremist groups [radical Islamists] inside and outside the country’.
The doctor added: ‘Never before have I treated someone who was poisoned with organophosphate agents. The only cases I treated were workers who were exposed to these agents in agricultural pesticides.’
The poisonings have resulted in girls avoiding school.
A teacher from Qom told Radio Farda that only 50 of 250 students attended classes.
Several schools have been shut due to the pending investigation.
Masih Alinejad, an Iranian human rights activist based in New York, told the Guardian: ‘In my opinion, this chemical attack is revenge by the Islamic Republic against the brave women who [rejected] the mandatory hijab and shook the “Berlin Wall” of [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei.’
‘As the Islamic State Iranian regime hates girls and women, I call on women across the globe – especially schoolgirls – to be the voice of Iranian students and call on the leaders of democratic countries to condemn this series of poisonings and isolate Khamenei’s regime,’ she said.
‘I call this biological terrorism, and it should be investigated by the UN. We need an outside organisation to investigate as soon as possible.’
Alinejad shared footage of students in a schoolyard in a tweet.
Commenting on the video, she wrote: ‘A student who sent this video from Pardis, Tehran says,; “The Islamic are killing us here. In reaction to this attack students are chanting Death to khamenei”.
‘More than 300 schoolgirls were poisoned.’TIOB News