Iranian Schoolgirls Poisoned


At the end of February, a massive scandal caused by the poisoning of schoolgirls swept across Iran. In more than 50 schools across the country, dozens of girls were hospitalized with poisoning symptoms. They complained of respiratory problems, nausea and dizziness. 

Locals and parents of the affected girls believe that domestic extremists, who oppose women’s education in the country, may be involved in the scandal. “It became evident that some people wanted all schools, especially girls’ schools, to be closed down,” the deputy health minister said on February 26. However, this hypothesis has little evidence. Over the past 40 years, women’s education has not been questioned by the government in the country. On the contrary, Iran has called on neighboring Afghanistan and the Taliban government to allow girls to attend schools and universities. 

Poisonings became widespread in early March, but the first cases of poisoning were recorded as early as November. At that time, according to local journalists, 18 schoolgirls were poisoned in the city of Qom in central Iran. 

Victims experienced symptoms ranging from headaches and coughing to nausea and shortness of breath. Parents of some of the schoolgirls reported that their daughters needed weeks to recover. 

One question remains, how exactly did the poisonings occur? The gas theory is by far the most plausible, as many victims said they smelled chlorine and cleaning agents shortly before the poisoning. 

Reactions to the poisonings

Despite the public outcry, authorities did not react to what was happening for a long time. The Minister of Education called the dispatch incidents “rumors.” This attitude on the part of the authorities caused protests in the capital, Tehran. On Saturday, March 4, the parents of the affected girls organized a rally in front of the Ministry of Education, which later turned into a demonstration. Similar protests took place in other cities including Isfahan and Rasht. 

On Wednesday, March 1, the government finally broke its silence and acknowledged the wave of poisonings, describing them as “intentional.” At a government meeting, President Ibrahim Raisi ordered an investigation into the poisonings. Previously, the country’s chief prosecutor said he had not received any information about poisoning in schools and attributed the poisoning incidents to stress. 

“The existence of the devil’s will to prevent girls from education is a serious danger and it is considered very bad news,” said national parliament member Ali Reza Monadi, who sits on the education committee.

Iranian human rights activist from New York, Masih Alinejad, claimed that the poisoning of schoolgirls is revenge conducted by authorities for anti-government protests, in which women played a key role. 

“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. She also called on the United Nations to launch its own investigation.

Featured image by: Associated Press

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