The crisis surrounding the alleged poisoning of female students in Iranian schools escalated yesterday when the authorities acknowledged that some 50 schools had been affected by a series of possible cases. The poisonings fueled fear among parents after months of protests in the country after the death of the young Iranian of Kurdish origin Mahsa Amini (22), arrested for misusing the Islamic veil and beaten to death by the police.
It is not yet clear who or what is responsible for the poisonings, which began last November in the Shiite holy city of Qom. Reports now indicate that schools in 21 of Iran’s 30 provinces had suspected cases, almost always in girls’ schools.
The attacks raised fears that other girls could be poisoned, apparently just for attending school. In fact, this is the version that circulates with more force: that the poisonings pursue the closure of schools attended by girls. There are some doubts, however, as girls’ education has not been called into question in the 40 years since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. In addition, Iran has called on the Taliban, which rules neighboring Afghanistan, to allow the return of girls and women to school.
Iran’s Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said on Saturday without elaborating that investigators had recovered “suspicious samples” in their investigations into the incidents, according to state news agency IRNA. Vahidi called for the population to calm down and accused the “enemy’s media terrorism” of inciting panic.
However, the country’s conservative president, Ebrahim Raisi, did not announce an investigation into the incidents until last Wednesday, when international media had covered the poisonings.
Vahidi indicated that at least 52 schools had been affected by poisonings. Iranian media gave figures of more than 60 centers.
At least 530 people have died and 19,700 have been detained in the repression of the protests over the crime of the young Amini, according to the organization Human Rights Activists in Iran.