Iranian girls are reportedly being poisoned to stop them from going to school
Iranian officials on Sunday confirmed that several school-aged girls were recently poisoned and appeared to confirm that the acts were intentional.
The country's deputy minister for education, Younes Panahi, said at a press conference that "some people" were responsible for the poisoning, but did not provide further details.
“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," Panahi said, according to the IRNA state news agency.
He said it was not yet known what chemicals were used in the attacks but added that the victims had been adequately treated.
It is unclear exactly how many girls were poisoned in Qom, which is located about 85 miles south of Tehran. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported that there have been "hundreds" of victims since at least November, though the most recent attack led 15 girls to be hospitalized.
Symptoms include nausea, headaches, coughing, breathing difficulties, heart palpitations, and numbness and pain in their hands or legs. There have been no reported deaths from the poisoning.
Still, the news has shocked the community, with parents protesting outside the governor's office last week. RFE/RL reports that at one school, only 50 of 250 students attended class last week, and several other schools have temporarily closed.
One Iranian doctor who anonymously spoke to the Guardian labeled the poisonings as "revenge" against schoolgirls who have been at the forefront of protests against religious extremism over the last several months.
“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.”
Iran has been undergoing a social upheaval since September after Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman, died in custody of the morality police over improperly wearing her hijab. Her death has since sparked massive protests that have been met with a brutal crackdown by authorities. Observers say more than 500 people have been killed by security forces.
At least four demonstrators have been executed since the start of the protests, with thousands more being imprisoned.