Hundreds of Schoolgirls have been Targeted in Poison Gas Attacks in Iran

There is growing public concern and widespread anger in Iran following reports that hundreds of schoolgirls have been poisoned in a series of mysterious gas attacks on schools across the country, raising fears that militant religious groups have begun waging a new violent campaign against the education of women and girls there.

This spate of attacks reportedly first came to attention back in November, amid the nationwide popular protests under the banner of “Woman, Life, Freedom”, in the holy city of Qom – the centre for Iran’s clerical establishment and base for its senior leaders – but was kept from the public on the insistence of the authorities, according to Iranian news media.

However, the news has been catapulted into the headlines over this past week following the poisoning of scores of schoolgirls in attacks that appear to have spread to other Iranian cities, including the capital Tehran.  Many of the schoolgirls have been hospitalised as a result of these poisonings, with reports currently circulating that at least one of them has died.  Several reports posted on social media accounts refer to victims having suffered breathing difficulties, vomiting, and gastro-intestinal problems, as well as a burning sensation and paralysis in their legs.

In the wake of these developments, Iranian government officials have been forced to admit that these poisonings appear to be the result of deliberate attacks on girls’ schools premises.

On Friday 24 February, reformist politician Jamileh Kadivar estimated that at least 400 girls have been hospitalised as a result of the attacks thus far.

Two days later, Deputy Health Minister Younes Panahi, in a press briefing in the city of Mashhad, stated that the poisonings were a deliberate and coordinated effort by “individuals” targeting girls’ schools in Iran.

“After several poisonings of students in Qom schools, it was found that some people wanted all schools, especially girls’ schools, to be closed,” the state Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) quoted Panahi as saying.

Prior to this, Iranian government officials had denied all knowledge of any such premeditated attacks or those otherwise aimed at blocking access to education for Iran’s girls.

The Islamic Republic’s education minister, Yousef Noori, initially dismissed the reports circulating about the attacks as mere “speculation” and “rumours”.

The Islamic Republic has a documented history and long track record of attempting to cover up serious human rights violations, denying all knowledge of them having taken place and, when eventually forced to admit to them, of painting the attacks trying to portray them as having been perpetrated by other forces acting independently and beyond their control.

Schoolgirls Filmed Themselves Without Forced-Hijab, Chanting Anti-State Slogans

Of course, many girls’ high schools in Iran have been the scenes of animated and passionate demonstrations during the nationwide popular protests against the theocratic regime.

Girls in schools across the country have rebelled against the state-mandated hijab by removing their headscarves, chanting anti-regime slogans, and even challenging regime officials and militia when they have appeared on their school premises to lecture them.  These protests have been caught on camera and widely circulated online generating huge support for their actions from wider society.  Iranian schoolboys have also been filmed taking parts in protests and actions of solidarity with their schoolgirl counterparts.

“The poisonings of students at girls’ schools, which have been confirmed as deliberate acts, were neither arbitrary nor accidental,” tweeted Mohammad Habibi, spokesperson for the Iranian Teachers Trade Association (ITTA) on Sunday 26 February.  “To reverse the gains [made in the popular protests] on freedom of attire, [the authorities] need to increase public fear.”

Serial Attacks Result in Hospitalisation of Children and School Staff

The first reported poisonings occurred on Wednesday 30 November 2022 at the Nour Yazdanshahr training school for girls in the city of Qom, situated 92 miles south of Tehran.

In that incident, several students and staff were hospitalised – though the exact number was not disclosed.

The same school was hit in another attack on Tuesday 13 December 2022, which poisoned 51 students and staff and prompted more than 30 families to sue local education officials in Qom for an investigation.

Following yet another gas poisoning incident in Qom on Tuesday 14 February, which led to the hospitalisation of at least 117 schoolgirls, angry parents gathered at the local governor’s office to demand answers.  However, the education minister dismissed the parents’ concerns and accused them of being influenced by “rumours”.

CODIR has added its voice to those in Iran sounding the alarm over this new development as well as those calling for an immediate independent investigation into these attacks, which are essentially terroristic in nature, and the identities of the perpetrators.  Those behind these horrendous attacks must be identified and brought to justice before a court of law.  No impunity can be afforded to those involved in the carrying out of these attacks, which have targeted some of the most vulnerable members of Iranian society as they go about their day-to-day lives… Merely for the ‘crime’ of going to school. 

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