Iran’s leader has declared that those behind the poisoning of over 1,000 schoolgirls should be sentenced to death for committing an ‘unforgivable crime‘ – if it is proven that attacks were deliberate. It was the first time Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all matters of state, has spoken publicly about the suspected poisonings, which began last year.
Since late November, hundreds of cases of respiratory poisoning have been reported among schoolchildren, the majority of whom are girls, with some needing hospital treatment. The poisonings began in Qom, south of Tehran, but have now been reported throughout the country including at schools in the capital. Officials have only acknowledged the incidents in recent weeks and have provided no details on who may be behind the attacks, or what chemicals – if any – have been used.
Unlike neighbouring Afghanistan, Iran has no history of religious extremists targeting women’s education. But the suspected attacks have been seen by some commentators as part of an extremist response to the protests led by women and girls that have swept Iran in recent months.
Authorities have acknowledged suspected poisoning attacks at more than 50 schools across 21 of Iran’s 30 provinces since November. Iran’s interior minister Ahmad Vahidi said over the weekend that ‘suspicious samples’ had been gathered by investigators. He that said at least 52 schools had been affected by suspected poisonings, while Iranian media reports have put the number of schools at over 60. At least one boys’ school has also been affected, according to reports.
Videos of distressed parents and schoolgirls in emergency rooms with IVs in their arms have flooded social media. The children affected in the poisonings have reportedly complained of headaches, heart palpitations, feeling lethargic or otherwise unable to move.