More than dozens of Iranian schoolgirls were reportedly hospitalized for being poisoned amidst chemical warfare. Since November 2022, over a 1000 students in Iran have been affected by toxic gas attacks and are suffering nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and respiratory problems.
Many in the country suspected that these poisonings were deliberately attempted to force girls’ schools to close down. However, Iran's government has not yet commented on whether they believe that these attacks are pre-planned and well thought-out.
Netizens who have seen the news are horrified at it and have even gone on to call it a "crime against humanity."
Ahmad Vahidi, the Interior Minister, was tasked by the president, Ebrahim Raisi, to find the “root cause” of these poisonings. However, the former has dismissed a report by the Fars news agency as “false” on Wednesday that said that three people were arrested.
Vahidi accused foreign-based “mercenary groups” and said that they took advantage of the situation in Iran to wage psychological war and make people panic.
Some of the parents of the students suggested that the schoolgirls might have been targeted for partaking in the recent anti-government protests. Around 26 schools were affected in five cities across Iran, as per the local media and activists.
Several videos surfaced of Iranian schoolgirls getting treatment in the hospital
Videos verified by BBC Persian showed ambulances arriving at Iranian schools in Tehran, the western city of Kermanshah, and the north-western city of Ardabil. The videos also showed students being taken to hospitals and treated.
In the western Tehran neighborhood of Tehransar, several girls from 13 Aban School were allegedly seen lying on hospital beds receiving oxygen.
Another video obtained from Tehran’s east showed schoolgirls sitting on the pavement outside a primary school. The mother of one student was seen rushing up to the school gate and screaming while inquiring about her daughter, to which a man replied:
"They've poisoned the students with gas."
Iranian authorities have been under increasing pressure from residents to put a stop to these poisonings. The poisonings initially originated in the Shia Muslim holy city of Qom in southern Tehran.
Around 830 students were poisoned as of Sunday, as established in research by BBC Persian. Most of these victims were schoolgirls. According to a member of the parliament, the number has increased to 1200. They said that the affected students were in the western city of Borujerd and Qom alone as of Tuesday.
Iranian students who were affected reported smelling fish or tangerines before falling ill. On Tuesday, Fars quoted Alireza Mondai-Sefidan, the parliamentary education committee’s chairman who said that an investigation found that the toxic gas involved in these attacks contained nitrogen.
However, on Wednesday, the interior minister told reporters that the reports saying a particular chemical substance was detected in the toxic gas were incorrect.
A parent told BBC Persian on Tuesday that other girls at their daughter’s school in Pardis were poisoned.
The parent said that their daughter and two of her friends claimed to have heard something that sounded like an explosion, which was followed by an unpleasant smell. The girls described the smell to be similar to burned plastic. They said that they were asked to leave their classes and go to the yard where many students began collapsing.
The parent added:
"There are kids with asthma and heart problems in my daughter's class. Ambulances and the police arrived. Kids were given milk by the ambulance staff."
Younes Panahi, the Deputy Health Minister, said on Sunday that it was evident that some Iranian residents wanted all schools, especially the girls’ institutions, to be closed down. However, Panahi later claimed that his remarks were misunderstood.
Several parents speculated that the schoolgirls were the victims of a “payback” for participating in the mass protests that erupted back in September 2022. The protests began after the death of Mahsa Amini. She was a young woman detained by the Iranian morality police for purportedly failing to properly wear her headscarf. Amini died while she was in custody.
A parent from Pardis said that when they arrived at the school, they were worried and angry. Other parents started shouting slogans against Ayatollah Ali, the Supreme Leader.
They also added that they did not believe these attacks will be investigated. The parent said that they had no hope in the Iranian system.