Iranian schoolgirls protest in front of a picture of the Supreme Leader and the late Ayatollah Khomeini
Editor’s Note: Iranians have been transfixed by the poisoning of schoolgirls in cities such as Qom and Boroujerd.
The first case was reported on November 30 in Qom Province in central Iran. In recent weeks, the poisonings have spread beyond the province throughout the country.
One girl has reportly died and more than 7,000 have suffered effects.
Symptoms include fatigue, burning throats, nausea, headaches, and numbness in the body.
Some observers assess that elements of Iran’s regime, including the Revolutionary Guards, may have carrying out the organophospate poisoning to deter schoolgirls from continuing their involvement in nationwide protests.
Since the protests began last September, schoolgirls have been prominent in their defiance not only of compulsory hijab but also of other restrictions by Iran’s leadership.
UPDATE, MAR 8:
As they crack down on coverage of the poisonings of schoolgirls, Iranian officials have announced the first arrests over the incidents.
Deputy Interior Minister Majid Mirahmadi said, “Based on the intelligence and research measures of the intelligence agencies, a number of people have been arrested in five provinces and the relevant agencies are conducting a full investigation.”
However, Mirahmadi indicated that some of those suspected of the poisonings may have connections with the Iranian regime. Rather than being arrested, the individuals were just given “guidance”.
Iran's deputy interior minister Mirahmadi on arrests made in the suspected poisoning of scnools: "In some cases that didn't have an opposition dimension, those involved were offered guidance."
Put simply, some of the people detained are not critics of the Islamic Republic. pic.twitter.com/Hd5bfJWCCb
— Kian Sharifi (@KianSharifi) March 7, 2023
With more girls were taken from their schools in ambulances on Tuesday, Iranian human rights groups said at least 7,068 students have been affected in at least 103 schools. Incidents have been reported in 99 cities in 28 of Iran’s 31 provinces.
The Interior Ministry played down the incidents on Monday, saying “benign stimulants” had been found in only 5% of hospitalized girls. The rest were suffering from “anxiety”, the Ministry claimed.
Protests were held outside the Education Ministry in Tehran, with leaders of teaching unions reportedly arrested by security forces.
In Sanandaj in northwest Iran, demonstrators chanted, “Death to the child-killing regime.” In the second city of Mashhad, parents held signs with Persian slogans comparing the Iranian regime to Nigeria’s Boko Haram, known for their violent attacks and abductions of schoolgirls.
۱۶ اسفند #رشت
— توکالی (@ToukAlii) March 7, 2023
UPDATE 1324 GMT:
Iran’s authorities have expanded their crackdown over coverage of the poisonings of schoolgirls.
The Tehran prosecutor’s office announced on Monday that it is pursuing journalists, media managers, academics, and other individuals who have spoken out about the attacks.
“In the past week, court cases were filed against the managers of Hammihan newspaper, Roidad 24 news website and Shargh newspaper, as well as individuals including [reformist politician] Azar Mansouri, [political scientist] Sadegh Zibakalam, and [actor] Reza Kianian,” the office said.
Tehran Prosecutor General Ali Salehi warned that “those who spread lies and rumours…will be dealt with decisively and legally”.
Journalist Seyed Ali Portabatabaei, a reporter for Qom News, has already been arrested (see below).
UPDATE, MAR 7:
Twenty of Iran’s leading human rights lawyers have called for an independent committee to investigate the claimed poisonings of schoolgirls across the country since late November.
The lawyers called on three UN agencies — the World Health Organization, the UN Children’s Fund, and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to launch an immediate inquiry.
Areas to be examined include the source of poisoning, the targeting of schools and particularly schoolgirls, and provision of urgent and effective aid, support, and protection.
Compiling media reports, the Iranian outlet Etemad says more than 1,000 students in 91 schools in 20 of Iran’s 31 provinces have been attacked. The actual number of incidents is believed to be much higher.
Hundreds of schoolgirls have been hospitalized.
UPDATE, MAR 6:
The Supreme Leader has finally commented on the four-month wave of schoolgirl illnesses across Iran.
“Authorities should seriously pursue the issue of students’ poisoning,” Ayatollah Khamenei said at a ceremony on National Tree Planting Day. “This is an unforgivable crime….The perpetrators of this crime should be severely punished.”
At a Cabinet meeting on Sunday, President Ebrahim Raisi continued to blame “enemy conspiracies…aimed at creating inflammation in the society and disturbing the public mind and instilling fear among the children of this land”.
Authorities are continuing to crack down on reporting of the illnesses, detaining Ali Purtabatabaei of the Qom News website. It is unclear which regime institution seized the journalist and where he was taken.
People in Tehran protesting over the poisonings have also reportedly been arrested.
Parents in a hospital where school girls have been admitted for gas poisoning, in the city of Ramhormoz, Khuzestan province, #Iran.
Hundreds of school girls, as well as some school boys, have been deliberately attacked with gas in classrooms across Iran since November.
— IranHumanRights.org (@ICHRI) March 5, 2023
A clip of students transported by buses to hospital on Sunday from two girls’ grammar schools in Mashhad in northeast Iran:
مدارس مشهد به طور گسترده مورد حملات با گاز سمی قرار گرفتهاند و دانشآموزان با استفاده از اتوبوسهای اورژانس به مراکز درمانی منتقل شدهاند. گزارشها حاکی است دو دبیرستان دخترانه «تدین» و «صداقت» در مشهد امروز هدف این حملات قرار گرفتهاند.#مسمومیت_دانش_آموزان pic.twitter.com/4YlfPkglYp
— DW فارسی (@dw_persian) March 5, 2023
Zanjan in northern Iran:
Giftgasanschläge auf Mädchenschulen im #Iran gehen auch heute unvermindert weiter. Hier: Zanjan. Spezialist im Krankenhaus Masih Deneshvari sagte, dass es für gewöhnliche Menschen nicht möglich sei, Zugang zu solchen Gasen zu erhalten, mit denen die Schülerinnen vergiftet werden. pic.twitter.com/dLdU7QgkYm
— Natalie Amiri (@NatalieAmiri) March 5, 2023
UPDATE, MAR 5:
Female students reportedly fell ill in at least 33 cities across 17 Iranian provinces on Saturday.
In another sign of escalating concern, a source at a girls’ primary school in Islamshahr, south of Tehran, said only about 10 of nearly 600 students attended classes yesterday.
The Qom Seminary Teachers and Researchers Association, close to Iran’s reformist movement, claimed in a statement that incidents are aimed at “creating terror to prevent girls from studying…[in] an atmosphere of panic and public fear”.
The clerics said attacks on students “will only add to society’s accumulated dissatisfaction with the government” brought on by unemployment, government inefficiencies, and a “crisis of legitimacy of the system”.
It added that “contradictory and inconsistent claims made by some official authorities” are exacerbating the problem.
UPDATE 1326 GMT:
Iran’s top Sunni cleric, Molavi Abdolhamid, has urged authorities to act over the poisonings at girls’ schools.
In his Friday Prayer in Zahedan in southeast Iran, Abdolhamid said:
Many believe that these poisonings are a continuation of the suppression of protests, that these girls were protesting in schools and that a group is now targeting them.
Anyone who doesn’t take action against this is not worthy of the country.
UPDATE, MAR 4:
President Ebrahim Raisi has tried to blame the poisoning of hundreds of schoolgirls on Iran’s foes: “This is a security project to cause chaos in the country whereby the enemy seeks to instill fear and insecurity among parents and students.”
An Iranian official said a fuel tanker, found next to a school in a Tehran suburb and spotted in two other cities, was probably involved in the poisonings. The driver was arrested.
UPDATE, MAR 2:
Poisonings of schoolgirls continue to escalate, with reports of incidents at 26 schools on Wednesday.
Most of the new cases were in Tehran Province and in Ardabil Province in northwest Iran.
Citing a “reliable” source, Shahriar Heydari, a member of Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said, “Nearly 900 students from different provinces of the country have been poisoned.”
At a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, President Ebrahim Raisi assigned Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli to lead a purported investigation into the incidents.
❗️ Mass poisonings of schoolgirls are reported in #Iran: over the past few months, hundreds of schoolgirls have been poisoned by an unknown toxic substance (presumably gas).
Religious fanatics who oppose women's education are suspected of involvement in the mass poisonings. pic.twitter.com/pJMjmmf3Sb
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) March 2, 2023
ORIGINAL ENTRY, FEB 28: Iranian authorities have confirmed they are investigating reports that several schoolgirls have been poisoned as “revenge” for the role young women played in recent protests against the mandatory hijab.
Iran’s Deputy Education Minister Younes Panahi told reporters on Sunday: “After the poisoning of several students in 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.”
Dr. Homayoun Sameyah Najafabadi, a member of Parliament’s Health Commission, also confirmed the poisoning of schoolgirls “in cities such as Qom and Borujerd has been done intentionally”.
Speaking to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, a doctor who specialises in the treatment of poisoning victims said, “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 diarrhea, then the attack was done using this agent.”
The doctor said they believed the motive was to “scare the protesters by using extremist groups inside and outside the country”.
“They want to take revenge on schoolgirls, who are the pioneers of the recent protests,” the doctor said. “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 attacks have led to girls staying away from school. A teacher from Qom – which is about 85 miles south of the capital Tehran – told Radio Farda that out of 250 students, only 50 attended classes. Last week angry parents protested outside the governor’s office in Qom and several schools have been closed 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 [Supreme Leader 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.
I call this biological terrorism, and it should be investigated by the UN. We need an outside organisation to investigate as soon as possible.