Wave of suspected poison attacks on schoolgirls sparks protests in Iran


Concerned parents protested in Iran’s capital Tehran and other cities on Saturday against a spate of suspected poison attacks that have hit schoolgirls in dozens of schools, according to Iranian news agencies and videos posted on social media.

The hitherto unexplained illnesses have affected hundreds of schoolgirls in recent months. Iranian officials believe the girls may have been poisoned and blame Tehran’s enemies.

The country’s health minister has said the girls have been subjected to “minor poison attacks” and some politicians have suggested the girls could be targeted by hardline Islamist groups opposed to girls’ education.

Iran’s interior minister said on Saturday that investigators had found “suspicious samples” that were being studied.

“Suspicious samples have been found in field studies, which are being examined … to identify the causes of the students’ illness, and the results will be published as soon as possible,” the minister, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, said in a statement. by the official news agency IRNA.

Disease hit more than 30 schools in at least 10 of Iran’s 31 provinces on Saturday. Videos posted to social media showed parents gathering at schools to take their children home and some students being taken to hospitals by ambulances or buses.

A woman from the city of Qom previously told CNN that both her daughters, who attended different schools, had been poisoned. A girl suffered serious health problems after being poisoned: nausea, shortness of breath and numbness in her left leg and right hand, and difficulty walking.

A gathering of parents outside a Ministry of Education building in western Tehran on Saturday to protest the diseases turned into an anti-government demonstration, according to a video verified by Reuters.

“Basij, guards, you are our Daesh,” protesters chanted, comparing the Revolutionary Guards and other security forces to the Islamic State group.

Similar protests were held in two other areas in Tehran and other cities, including Isfahan and Rasht, according to unverified videos.

The outbreak of schoolgirl disease comes at a critical time for Iran’s cleric rulers, who have faced months of anti-government protests sparked by the death of a young Iranian woman in the custody of the morality police who enforce strict dress codes.

Social media posts over the past few days have featured photos and videos of girls falling ill, feeling nauseated or having heart palpitations. Others complained of headaches. Reuters was unable to verify the messages.

The United Nations Human Rights Office in Geneva on Friday called for a transparent investigation into the suspected attacks and countries such as Germany and the United States have expressed concern.

Experts have spoken about the difficulties in investigating the situation in Iran, telling CNN that the incidents were “remarkably similar” to dozens of incidents in schools in Afghanistan since 2009. “Some of these incidents involved strong suspicions of pesticides, but most of the diseases remain unexplained,” says London-based defense specialist Dan Kaszeta of the Royal United Services Institute.

Iran rejected what it considers foreign interference and “hasty reactions” and said on Friday it was investigating the causes of the incidents.

“It is one of the immediate priorities of the Iranian government to address this issue as soon as possible and to provide documented information to address the concerns of the families and to hold the perpetrators and causes accountable,” the spokesman said. from the State Department Nasser Kanaani to the state media.

Schoolgirls were active in the anti-government protests that began in September. They have taken off their compulsory headscarves in classrooms, torn up photographs of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and called for his death.

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