Girls' school poisonings in Iran: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei calls attacks 'unforgivable crime'

Videos of upset parents and schoolgirls in emergency rooms with IVs in their arms have flooded social media and more than 50 attacks have been reported since November
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran | Pic: Wikimedia Commons
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran | Pic: Wikimedia Commons

For the first time, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has spoken out against a series of suspected poisonings at girls' schools in the country. The Supreme Leader, who has the final say in all matters of the state said on Monday, March 6, that if the poisonings are proven to be deliberate, the culprits should be sentenced to death for committing an "unforgivable crime", reported Associated Press.

The suspected poisonings began late last year and have sickened hundreds of children. Iranian officials only acknowledged them in recent weeks and have provided no details on who may be behind the attacks or what chemicals, if any, have been used. "If the poisoning of students is proven, those behind this crime should be sentenced to capital punishment and there will be no amnesty for them," Khamenei said, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

More than 50 attacks since November

Authorities have acknowledged suspected 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, without elaborating. He called on the public to remain calm and accused unnamed enemies of inciting fear to undermine the Islamic Republic, reported AP.

Vahidi added that 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 boy's school reportedly has been affected. Videos of upset parents and schoolgirls in emergency rooms with IVs in their arms have flooded social media.

Mahsa Amini and women's rights in Iran

Iran has imposed stringent restrictions on independent media since the outbreak of nationwide protests in September, making it difficult to determine the nature and scope of the suspected poisonings. The protests were sparked by the death of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, at the hands of the country's morality police for allegedly violating the country's strict dress code.

Religious hard-liners in Iran have been known to attack women they perceive as dressing immodestly in public. However, before these incidents of poisoning in girls' schools, Iran has no history of religious extremists targeting women's education. Even at the height of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, women and girls continued attending schools and universities.

According to AP, the children affected by the poisonings have reportedly complained of headaches, heart palpitations, feeling lethargic or otherwise unable to move. Some described smelling tangerines, chlorine or cleaning agents. Reports suggest at least 400 schoolchildren have fallen ill since November. Vahidi, the interior minister, said in his statement that two girls remain in the hospital because of underlying chronic conditions. There have been no reported fatalities.

Attacks on schools continue

As more attacks were reported on Sunday, March 5, videos were posted on social media showing children complaining about pain in the legs, abdomen and dizziness. State media have mainly referred to these as "hysteric reactions".

The World Health Organization documented a similar phenomenon in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2012, when hundreds of girls across the country complained of strange smells and poisoning. No evidence was found to support the suspicions and the WHO said it appeared to be "mass psychogenic illnesses".

Related Stories

No stories found.