Public Frustration Grows Over Schoolgirls Poisoning

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Credit: Craig Melville/ unsplash

Almost 700 girls have been poisoned by toxic gas in Iran since November, in what many believe is a deliberate attempt to force their schools to shut. No girls have died, but dozens have suffered respiratory problems, nausea, dizziness and fatigue. “It became evident that some people wanted all schools, especially girls’ schools, to be closed down,” the deputy health minister said on Sunday.

Criminal Investigation 

The prosecutor general announced last week that he was opening a criminal investigation. However, he said that the available information only indicated “the possibility of criminal and premeditated acts”. Meanwhile, public frustration is continuing to grow. The first poisoning took place on 30 November, when 18 students from the Nour Technical School in the religious city of Qom were taken to hospital.

Since then, more than 10 girls’ schools have been targeted in the surrounding province. At least 194 girls are reported to have been poisoned in the past week at four schools in the city of Borujerd, in the western province of Lorestan. And on Tuesday another 37 students were poisoned at the Khayyam Girls’ School in Pardis, near the capital Tehran. The poisoned girls have reported the smell of tangerine or rotten fish before falling ill. “You are obliged to ensure my children’s safety! I have two daughters,” one father shouted in a video widely shared on social media. “Two daughters… and all I can do is not let them go to school.”

Religious Heartland

At a news conference on Sunday, Deputy Health Minister Younes Panahi said the girls had been poisoned by chemicals that “are not military grade and are publicly available”. “The pupils do not need any invasive treatment and it’s necessary to maintain calm,” he added. Dr Panahi’s comment that it was “evident that some people wanted all schools… to be closed down” appeared to confirm the government believed the poisonings were premeditated. His subsequent denial suggested splits among officials over how to handle public anger when no suspects have been identified.

The poisonings have notably been concentrated in Qom, a city that is home to important Shia Muslim shrines and the religious leadership that forms the backbone of the Islamic Republic. Since September, the clerical establishment has been challenged by the mass protests that erupted after the death in custody of a young Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, who was detained by morality police for allegedly failing to wear her headscarf “properly”.

Iran’s leaders have traditionally rejected criticism of its restrictions on women, such as the mandatory headscarf, and instead boasted about the number of women who attend university. But if young girls do not finish school, college is just a dream. The comments of one schoolgirl, who says she has been poisoned twice, at the meeting with Qom’s governor earlier this month highlighted how vague and misleading some of the statements from the authorities have been.

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Source: BBC