The Hamilton Spectator
Suspected schoolgirl poisoning attacks rattle a shaken Iran
Over the past three months, hundreds of young girls attending different schools in Iran have become overpowered by what are believed to be noxious fumes wafting into their classrooms, with some ending up weakened on hospital beds.
Officials in Iran’s theocracy initially dismissed these incidents, but now describe them as intentional attacks involving some 30 schools identified in local media reports, with some speculating they could be aimed at trying to close schools for girls in this country of over 80 million people.
The reported attacks come at a sensitive time for Iran, which already has faced months of protests after the September death of Mahsa Amini following her arrest by the country’s morality police.
The authorities have not named suspects, but the attacks have raised fears that other girls could be poisoned apparently just for seeking an education — something that’s never been challenged before in the over 40 years since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iran itself also has been calling on the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan to have girls and women return to school.
The first cases emerged in late November in Qom, some 125 kilometres southwest of Iran’s capital, Tehran. There, in a heartland of Shiite theologians and pilgrims, students at the Noor Yazdanshahr Conservatory fell ill in November. They then fell ill again in December.
Other cases followed, with children complaining about headaches, heart palpitations, feeling lethargic or otherwise unable to move. Some described smelling tangerines, chlorine or cleaning agents.
At first, authorities didn’t link the cases. It’s winter in Iran, where temperatures often drop below freezing at night. Many schools are heated by natural gas, leading to speculation it could be carbon monoxide poisoning affecting the girls. The country’s education minister initially dismissed the reports as “rumours.”
But the schools affected at first only taught young women, fuelling suspicion it wasn’t accidental.
Attacks have raised fears that other girls could be poisoned apparently just for seeking an education