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Source: AFP

Feb 28, 2023

BY Agence France-Presse in Tehran

Dozens of schoolgirls in Iran were admitted to hospital on Tuesday after a mysterious poisoning, an Iranian news agency has reported, in the latest in a spate of suspected attacks.

Hundreds of cases of respiratory distress have been reported in the past three months among Iranian schoolgirls, mainly in the city of Qom, south of Tehran, with some needing hospital treatment.

A government official said on Sunday that the attacks were believed to be a deliberate attempt to force the closure of girls’ schools.

“Today at noon, a number of students were poisoned at the Khayyam girls’ school in the city of Pardis, Tehran province,” the Tasnim news agency reported on Tuesday.

The agency said 35 students had been transferred to hospital so far, adding to the hundreds of cases of poisoning since November in at least two other cities, including Qom.

The poisonings come more than five months into protests that spread across Iran over the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after her arrest for an alleged violation of the country’s strict dress code for women.

On Sunday, students at a girls’ school in Borujerd were rushed to hospital after a similar incident, the fourth in the western city within the past week.

Iran’s parliament held a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the suspected attacks in the presence of the health minister, Bahram Eynollahi, the official IRNA news agency reported.

IRNA quoted the parliament’s speaker, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, as saying that both Qom and Borujerd were “dealing with student poisonings”.

On Sunday, Iran’s deputy health minister, Younes Panahi, said some people had been poisoned at a girls’ school in Qom with the aim of shutting down education for girls.

“After the poisoning of several students in Qom schools, it was found that some people wanted all schools, especially girls’ schools, to be closed,” IRNA quoted him as saying at the time.

He did not elaborate. So far, there have been no arrests linked to the poisonings.

Activists have compared those responsible for the suspected attacks to the Taliban in Afghanistan and Boko Haram in the Sahel, who oppose girls’ education.

On 14 February, parents of students who had been taken ill had gathered outside Qom’s governorate to “demand an explanation” from the authorities, IRNA reported.

On the following day, the government’s spokesperson, Ali Bahadori Jahromi, said the intelligence and education ministries were trying to establish the cause of the poisonings.

Last week, Iran’s prosecutor general, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, ordered a judicial investigation into the incidents.

Ahmad Amiri Farahani, the member of parliament representing Qom, denounced the suspected attack on the schoolgirls as an “irrational act”, stressing that people in the city “support girls’ education”.

On Tuesday, the former Iranian reformist vice-president Massoumeh Ebtekar expressed regret over the “repeat of the crime of poisoning girls” and called on the authorities “to put an end to misogynistic fanatics once and for all”.

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