Iranian schoolgirls are said to have been poisoned to prevent them from going to school

According to several news reports, young girls have been poisoned in about 30 schools across the country to prevent them from attending school.

The BBC reported that around 700 girls have been affected by poison gas since November, many of whom have been hospitalized but none have died. The affected girls showed symptoms such as nausea and fatigue, the network added.

Schoolgirls have been at the forefront of protests that have rocked the country following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in morality police custody in September, after the young woman was arrested for allegedly not wearing her hijab properly.

The first cases of poisoning were reported in November in the religious city of Qom, home to Shia clerics and many religious schools.

Students at Noor Yazdanshahr Conservatory in Qom fell ill in both November and December, according to The Associated Press, but authorities initially failed to see any connection between the incidents.

Other cases were later reported in other cities, including the country’s capital Tehran and Borujerd, suggesting these were not isolated cases.

Most of the schools affected by the poisonings were taught to young girls, but at least one has so far been reported in a boys’ school in Borujerd, the AP added.

About 100 people, including parents, protested the incidents in Qom last month, and some families have already stopped taking their children to school.

Both the Iranian Attorney General and the Ministry of Intelligence have launched investigations into the poisoning.

“The poisoning of students of Qom was intentional and caused by available chemical compounds. Some people wanted all schools to be closed, especially girls’ schools,” Younes Panahi, a deputy health minister, said at a news conference on Sunday, according to a report by Iran’s state broadcaster IRIB, quoted by NBC News.

Panahi, who did not identify who was behind the attacks, later said his remarks suggesting the attacks on girls’ schools were believed to be premeditated were misunderstood as the government had not confirmed this, the BBC reported.

During the press conference, Panahi said those affected showed mild symptoms, including weakness and lethargy, and none of the students had any complications.

“The poisoned students do not need aggressive treatment and a large percentage of the chemical agents used are treatable,” he said.

Young women who defied the strict Islamist dress code were attacked with acid in Isfahan, Iran, in 2014.

“If the perpetrators of the acid attacks had been identified and punished then, a group of reactionaries would not have banded together against our innocent girls in the schools today,” Azar Mansoori, a reformist politician, wrote on Twitter, according to Reuters.

Girls’ education in Iran has not been questioned since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the AP said, despite the country’s very conservative leadership. Iran has even asked Afghanistan to allow girls to attend schools and universities.

However, government critics in Iran have raised the possibility that the poisonings could be an “act of revenge” by the government for girls taking part in the protests following Amini’s death. So far, there seems to be no evidence to support these claims.

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