Since November, nearly 700 girls in Iran have been poisoned by toxic gas in what many believe is an attempt to close their schools. There have been no fatalities, but dozens of girls have experienced respiratory problems, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue.
On Sunday, the deputy health minister stated, "It became clear that some individuals desired the closure of all schools, especially schools for girls." However, he later stated that his comments were misinterpreted.
The prosecutor general announced the launch of a criminal investigation last week. However, he stated that the information available only suggested "the probability of criminal and pre planned acts." Meanwhile, public discontent continues to increase. On November 30, 18 students from the Nour Technical School in the religious city of Qom were hospitalized following the first poisoning. More than ten girls' schools in the surrounding province have been targeted since then.
At least 194 girls have reportedly been poisoned in the previous week at four schools in the western province of Lorestan's city of Borujerd. There were 37 students poisoned at the Khayyam Girls' School in Pardis, near the Iranian capital of Tehran, on Tuesday. Before falling ill, the poisoned girls reported smelling tangerine or rotting fish. At least 100 people demonstrated in front of the governor's office in Qom earlier this month.
A video of a father screaming was shared on social media where he mentioned that he is a father of two daughters and all he could do is not send them to school. He also stated that it was the school's responsibility to ensure the safety of the girls. "This is war!" a woman exclaimed. She said this was being done in a Qom high school to compel girls to sit at home. They desire that girls remain at home."
Some parents have reported that their children were sick for weeks following the poisoning. Another video from a hospital depicts a teenage girl unconscious on a hospital bed with her mother by her side.
"To all mothers: My child is in a hospital bed with weak limbs, and I am a mother "cries out the distressed mother. She is unresponsive”. Please do not enroll your children in school." During a news conference on Sunday, Deputy Health Minister Younes Panahi stated that the girls had been poisoned with "non-military grade and commercially available" chemicals.
Dr. Panahi's remark that it was "obvious that some individuals wanted all schools to be closed" appeared to confirm the government's belief that the poisonings were deliberate. His subsequent denial suggested that officials were divided over how to address public outrage when no suspects have been identified.
The majority of poisonings have occurred in Qom, which is home to important Shia Muslim shrines and the religious leadership that serves as the backbone of the Islamic Republic.
The clerical establishment has been challenged since September by mass protests sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman who was held in custody as she was not wearing her headscarf properly. At a meeting with the governor of Qom earlier this month, a student who claimed to have been poisoned twice exemplified how ambiguous and deceptive some of the official statements have been.