- Hundreds of cases of respiratory distress reported in three months.
- Poisonings come over five months into protests that spread across Iran.
- Similar such incidents since November have sparked outrage across the nation.
Dozens of Iranian schoolgirls needed hospital treatment on Tuesday after another mysterious poisoning, a news agency reported, the latest in a spate of suspected attacks in the country.
Hundreds of cases of respiratory distress have been reported in the past three months among schoolgirls mainly in the holy city of Qom, south of Tehran, with some needing hospitalisation.
A government official said on Sunday that the attacks were believed to be a deliberate attempt to force the closure of girls’ schools.
“Today (Tuesday) at noon, a number of students were poisoned at the Khayyam Girls’ School in the city of Pardis, Tehran province,” Tasnim news agency reported.
It said 35 students had been taken to hospital so far, adding to hundreds of cases of reported poisoning since November in at least two other cities including Qom.
The poisonings come more than five months into protests that spread across Iran after the September 16 death in custody of 22-year-old Iranian Kurd Mahsa Amini following her arrest for an alleged violation of the country’s strict dress code for women.
Tehran says hundreds of people have been killed and thousands arrested in connection with the protests, which the authorities generally describe as “riots”.
On Sunday, students at a girls’ school in Borujerd were rushed to hospital after a poisoning incident, the fourth in the western city within the past week.
Parliament held a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the suspected attacks. The session was attended by Health Minister Bahram Eynollahi, the official IRNA news agency reported.
IRNA quoted speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf as saying that both Qom and Borujerd were “dealing with student poisonings”.
The suspected poisonings were being investigated, Iran’s police chief told Tasnim news agency on Tuesday.
“Our priority is to find the origin of this case, and until then we will not judge whether it was intentional or not,” it quoted Ahmad-Reza Radan as saying.
“We have not yet arrested anyone in this case and we are identifying possible suspects,” the police chief added.
On Sunday the deputy health minister, Younes Panahi, said some people had been poisoned at a girls’ school in Qom, in a bid to shut 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.
Panahi did not elaborate.
Similar such incidents since November have sparked outrage across the nation.
On February 14, parents of students who had been ill gathered outside Qom’s governorate to “demand an explanation” from the authorities, IRNA reported.
The following day, government spokesman Ali Bahadori Jahromi said the intelligence and education ministries were trying to find the cause of the poisonings.
Last week, Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri ordered a judicial probe into the incidents.
Qom lawmaker Ahmad Amiri Farahani denounced the attack on the schoolgirls as an “irrational act”, stressing that residents of the holy city “support girls’ education”.
On Tuesday, former 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”.