Khamenei calls poisoning of Iranian schoolgirls ‘unforgivable crime’ as cases surge
The mysterious cases, which started in November 2022, have been framed by western media as a 'revenge attack' on schoolgirls for last year's anti-government protests
By News Desk - March 06 2023

(Photo Credit: AFP)

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on March 6 described the suspected poisoning of Iranian schoolgirls in recent months as an “unforgivable crime.”

“Authorities should seriously pursue the issue of students’ poisoning. This is an unforgivable crime … the perpetrators of this crime should be severely punished,” Khamenei was quoted by state media as saying.

The Iranian Supreme Leader stressed that if it is proven that the students were poisoned, the perpetrators of the crime should be severely punished, adding that “there will be no amnesty for these people.”

At least 1,000 schoolgirls in over 52 schools across 21 provinces have reported symptoms of poisoning, specifically consistent with those of toxic gas attacks. According to Mehr News Agency, in most cases, students have been suffering respiratory problems, nausea, headaches, fatigue, and dizziness. Some have been hospitalized.

Several students described the smell of tangerines, chlorine, or cleaning agents, while others likened the smell to rotten fruit or rotten eggs, state media reported.

The mysterious poison attacks date back to November and reportedly started in the city of Qom, later spreading to other provinces.

On 2 March, Tehran’s public prosecutor Ali Salehi announced the formation of a special branch to follow up on the situation and said that investigations were launched immediately after the first cases were reported in Tehran.

On Saturday, Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi – who was ordered by President Ebrahim Raisi to launch a probe immediately – said that investigators obtained “suspicious samples” in the course of their investigations into the incidents, according to state media outlet IRNA.

He urged the public to remain calm and accused the “enemy’s media terrorism” of inciting more panic over the alleged poisonings.

The same week at a press conference, however, Vahidi said that “over 90 percent of the poisonings were not caused by external factors, and most came from stress and worries caused by the news.”

Similarly, on Sunday, the Head of Iran’s Civil Defense Organization, Brigadier General Gholamreza Jalali, highlighted the impact of fear and panic, clarifying, “I am not saying the poisoning cases are not real, but instilling public fear may greatly increase the number of victims.”

During a cabinet meeting the same day, President Raisi attributed the poisoning to Iran’s “enemies” and called the attacks a “security project to cause chaos in the country whereby the enemy seeks to instill fear and insecurity among parents and students.”

Last month, Iran’s deputy education minister, Younes Panahi, told media that “after the poisoning of several students in [the city of] Qom … it was found that some people wanted all schools, especially girls’ schools, to be closed.”

Panahi’s comments echo those of other officials who have speculated that the students are being targeted by extreme religious groups opposed to girls’ education.

“It has been revealed that the chemical compounds used to poison students are not war chemicals … the poisoned students do not need aggressive treatment, and a large percentage of the chemical agents used are treatable,” the minister added.

Dr. Homayoun Sameyah Najafabadi, a member of the parliament’s health commission, also asserted that the poisoning of schoolgirls in cities such as Qom and Borujerd “has been done intentionally.”

Western and opposition media have framed the poisonings as an attack on women’s education by the Islamic Republic and a government plot of revenge against schoolgirls for protesting in the months following Mahsa Amini’s death in September, with the hashtag #IranianSchoolHolocaust trending on Twitter.

On 4 March, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian slammed western governments for “shedding crocodile tears” over the poisonings.

No perpetrators have been arrested for the attacks so far.

Most Popular