Thousands of schoolgirls in Iran are learned to have suffered from mysterious cases of 'poisoning' since November 2022. Dozens of them are currently being treated at hospitals across the country over apparent toxic gas attacks at schools, according to BBC.
First reported in the holy city of Qom, where about 50 schoolgirls were admitted to hospitals after they fell ill, the 'gas poisonings' have since occurred at schools in Borujerd and Ardebi, among other cities.
While there have been no casualties yet, the girls have suffered respiratory problems, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, and in some cases, weakness in their limbs.
Iran has been witnessing anti-government protests since September 2022. Several schoolgirls have been taking part in the demonstrations by removing their hijabs in classrooms and school premises.
Iranian human rights activists believe that the poisonings are a deliberate attempt by the state to keep girls out of school.
What Has Happened?
The first case of poisoning was reported on 30 November, with students of Nour Technical College in Qom being taken to the hospital. Since then, girls in the surrounding provinces have been affected.
More recently, nearly 200 schoolgirls were allegedly poisoned in the past week at four different schools in Borujerd. Thirty-seven students fell ill earlier this week at the Khayyam Girls' School in Pardis, near Tehran.
The schoolgirls said they smelled tangerine, rotten fish, or a strong perfume before falling sick. Most of them were released shortly after they were taken to the hospital, but many had to be kept under observation for days.
What Has the State Said?
According to Al Jazeera, the Iranian state has been downplaying the incidents for the past few months, saying that the schoolgirls had "panicked" or experienced only "minor symptoms."
But earlier this week, on 26 February, Deputy Health Minister Younes Panahi confirmed that the poisonings have been deliberate. He said that girls were poisoned by chemicals that "are not military grade and are publicly available," and that they could not transmited.
"The pupils do not need any invasive treatment and it's necessary to maintain calm," he added. He also said it was "evident that some people wanted all schools... to be closed down." Later, however, Panahi claimed his remarks were misunderstood.
The state, meanwhile, has formed a committee to investigate the poisonings. President Ebrahim Raisi, on 1 March, ordered the Interior Ministry to follow up on poisoning cases.
Growing Public Outrage
Iranian citizens, meanwhile, are pointing fingers at the government for 'targeting' their girl children. Some parents have claimed that their daughters have been sick for weeks due to the poisoning.
Several videos of parents venting their ire at the government have also surfaced. One video from a hospital shows a mother next to her teenage daughter, who is lying on a bed.
The mother says, "Dear mothers, I'm a mother and my child is in a hospital bed and her limbs are weak. I pinch her but she doesn't feel anything. Please don't send your children to school."