Worried parents protested in Iran‘s capital Tehran and other cities on Saturday over a wave of suspected poison attacks that have affected schoolgirls in dozens of schools, according to Iranian news agencies and social media videos.
Over 1,000 girls have suffered poisoning since November, according to state media and officials, with some politicians blaming religious groups opposed to girls’ education. The poisonings have so far been unexplained though investigations are currently underway into the origins of the attacks.
“In field studies, suspicious samples have been found, which are being investigated… 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 carried by the official news agency IRNA.
Iran‘s interior minister said on Saturday investigators had found “suspicious samples” that were being studied.
A gathering of parents outside an Education Ministry building in western Tehran on Saturday to protest over the illnesses turned into an anti-government demonstration.
“Basij, Guards, you are our Daesh,” protesters chanted, likening the Revolutionary Guards and other security forces to the Islamic State group. Many of those in attendance chanted “down with the child-killing regime” as there is growing suspicion by citizens that the clerical regime is behind the attacks as retribution for anti-government protests and open defiance of strict dress code rules.
Similar protests were held in two other areas in Tehran and other cities including Isfahan and Rasht, according to unverified videos.
On Monday, Iran‘s supreme leader said that poisoning schoolgirls is an “unforgivable” crime which should be punished by death if deliberate, state TV reported, amid public anger over a wave of suspected attacks in schools.
“Authorities should seriously pursue the issue of students’ poisoning,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as saying by state TV. “If it is proven deliberate, those perpetrators of this unforgivable crime should be sentenced to capital punishment.”
The United Nations human rights office in Geneva called on Friday for a transparent investigation into the suspected attacks and countries including Germany and the United States have voiced concern.
Iran rejected what it views as foreign meddling and “hasty reactions” and said on Friday it was investigating the causes of the incidents.
Schoolgirls were active in the anti-government protests that began in September after Mahsa Amini’s death in morality police custody. They have removed their mandatory headscarves in classrooms, torn up pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and called for his death.
Some activists have accused the establishment of the poisonings in revenge.
“Now the girls of Iran are paying the price for fighting against the compulsory hijab (veil) and have been poisoned by the clerical establishment,” tweeted New York-based leading Iranian activist Masih Alinejad.
On Monday, Iran‘s Judiciary Chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei reiterated that women who violate the Islamic dress code will be punished, said on Monday according to the official IRNA news agency.
“Removing one’s hijab is equivalent to showing enmity to the Islamic Republic and its values. People who engage in such an abnormal act will be punished,” Ejei said.
“With the help of the judiciary and executive, authorities will use all available means to deal with the people who cooperate with the enemy and commit this sin that harms public order.”
Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters. Additions and edits for FISM News by Michael Cardinal