Schoolgirls in Iran were poisoned in several provinces across the country on Saturday, leading to dozens of hospitalizations and protests in the capital denouncing the attacks amid concerns of a possible government involvement.
Since November, dozens of girls’ schools across Iran have been affected by a series of poisonings that have left hundreds of girls feeling unwell.
Authorities initially dismissed these occurrences but have recently acknowledged the scale of the problem.
Symptoms reported by students include headaches, heart palpitations, lethargy, and an inability to move. Some have also described smelling unusual scents such as tangerines, chlorine, or cleaning agents.
State-affiliated news agencies reported poisoning cases in several provinces on Saturday, including in Fars, Hamedan, West Azerbaijan and Alborz.
The semi-official Tasnim news agency reported that 27 students from a girls’ school in the city of Kavar in Fars province were taken to hospital after experiencing symptoms of nausea, weakness and dizziness.
The agency said another 30 students from a girls’ school in the of Orumiyeh in West Azerbaijan province were taken to medical centers after being poisoned, adding that the cause of the poisoning was unknown.
The activist group 1500tasvir released a list of more than 40 girls’ schools across Iran, spanning over 20 cities and towns, where students were reportedly poisoned on Saturday.
Videos posted on Twitter by 1500tasvir showed protesters gathered outside buildings affiliated with the country’s Ministry of Education in at least two parts of Tehran.
In one video from Tehran, protesters could be heard chanting “Our enemy is right here; they lie when they say it is the US.”
This slogan has been popular in protests in Iran in recent years, referring to the Iranian regime rather than the US as the actual enemy of the people of Iran.
At least one police car could be seen in that video, and in another video from Tehran, security forces appeared to drag a person into a van. Dozens were arrested in the capital, according to 1500tasvir.
Iranian state media has not acknowledged the demonstrations.
On Friday, President Ebraim Raisi described the ongoing wave of poison attacks on schoolgirls in Iran as a “conspiracy,” blaming it on Tehran’s “enemies.” He did not name any specific countries, but Iranian officials often use the term “enemy” to refer to the US and Israel.
The United Nations, as well as the US and German governments, expressed concern over the reports of poison attacks and called on Iran to investigate the incidents.
One Iranian official said the poisonings could be an attempt to force the closure of girls’ schools in the country.
Some Iranians, including prominent dissidents, have accused the regime of being responsible for the attacks. They believe that the poisonings, which come more than five months after protests that spread across Iran following Mahsa Amini’s death, are deliberate and a form of “revenge” against schoolgirls for participating in the protests.
Amini died on September 16 after her arrest by the morality police in Tehran for allegedly breaching the country’s strict dress rules for women. Her death triggered months of protests that quickly escalated into calls for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic.
Schoolgirls across Iran joined the protests, with many videos on social media showing them taking off headscarves and chanting anti-government slogans, including on school premises.