Iran’s reformist Etemad news agency reported on March 1 that over the past three months, hundreds of schoolgirls have been poisoned in at least 58 schools in 10 provinces across the country.
In the past two days, at least three schools in Tehran described students being poisoned by toxic gas emissions, Shargh Daily paper reported. Videos circulated on social media appear to show students from one affected school chanting slogans in protest and plainclothes officers violently attacking a mother who had come to the school. The police issued a statement denying its forces role in the attack.
Iranian authorities have responded to these reports with contradictory explanations and appeared to downplay their seriousness, despite outrage among students and parents.
On February 26, Younes Panahi, Iran’s deputy health minister said, “after repeated poisoning of students in Qom schools, it became evident that some people wanted all schools, especially girls’ schools, to be closed down.” He later said his statement had been misunderstood. Sameh Najafabadi, a member of the parliamentary health commission told Dideban Iran that “what is evident is that these attacks in Qom and Boroujerd are deliberate.” Several local and national authorities have said they have opened investigations but have provided no details or findings.
Following 22-year-old Mahsa (Jina) Amini’s death in custody on September 16, 2022, teenage girls throughout Iran have shown extreme bravery by leading Iran’s recent protests, chanting, “women, life, freedom.” Many Iranians have expressed fears that these reported poisoning are aimed at spreading fear to silence schoolgirls.
On February 27, Shargh Daily paper quoted a religious scholar speculating about the role of fundamentalist groups, who oppose girls’ education, in conducting reported poisonings.
Iranian authorities have a terrible record of investigating violence against women and girls. In 2014, attackers threw acid into the faces of several women in Isfahan, but authorities never made any arrest or prosecuted anyone for it.
The authorities have also failed to investigate the government’s vicious repression of widespread protests since September – including arbitrary arrests of thousands and killings of hundreds of people, including children – and instead proceeded with the executions of four young men for their alleged roles during the protests following grossly unfair trials.
On March 1, the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association issued a statement calling on Iran’s senior leadership including the supreme leader and religious leaders to clearly condemn the alleged attacks, and judicial authorities and the education minister to provide prompt transparent explanation into their investigation.
Iranian authorities need to launch a prompt, transparent, and impartial investigation into these reported poisonings of girls at schools, bring perpetrators to justice, and ensure the safety of all students. Unfortunately, their long history of disregard for the basic rights of Iranian citizens, especially women and girls, leaves little reason to be hopeful genuine investigations and appropriate action will be carried out.