LONDON: Iranian schoolgirls are being deliberately poisoned to keep them away from their studies, a government minister claimed in a report by the Fars News Agency.
Younes Panahi, Iran’s deputy health minister, said that “certain individuals sought the closure of all schools, especially girls’ schools,” and that pupils were being “deliberately poisoned with chemical compounds.”
In the city of Qom, hundreds of cases of respiratory poisonings have been reported since November, with 15 girls hospitalized over the past week alone.
In Borujerd, a city in the west of the country, 82 students were hospitalized with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning. Their symptoms included nausea, headaches, coughing, breathing issues and an irregular heartbeat.
Similar cases have been reported at more than a dozen schools in four other cities, including Tehran.
Families of the Qom students rallied outside the city governor’s office earlier this month demanding an explanation and chanting: “We don’t want unsafe schools” and “schools must be secured.”
While no one has claimed responsibility for the poisonings, they come amid a wave of anti-government protests sparked by the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September.
Young women, many of them students, have played a key role in the nationwide uprising which seeks to overthrow the clerical regime that has been in power since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
Human rights groups have accused Iran’s security forces of killing more than 500 people and imprisoning thousands across the country.