More than 1,000 girls report symptoms of poisoning in Iran

More than 1,000 schoolgirls in 15 cities have reported symptoms consistent with those experienced by victims of toxic gas attacks. Girls interviewed by the state media say that they were suddenly overcome by a smell “of rotten fruit or rotten eggs or a strong perfume,” and could barely breathe. Some say they passed out and had to be dragged into the fresh air by their friends. Others say they felt dizzy and sick. Many girls were taken to hospital.

At a recent press conference, Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi, who had been asked by President Ebrahim Raisi to investigate, claimed that “more than 90% of the poisonings were not caused by external factors, and most came from stress and worries caused by the news.” However, Iranian Deputy Health Minister Yunes Panahi suggested that the aim of the attacks was to close girls’ schools. Parliament has taken up the issue, and an official investigation has now been opened.

The Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association has called for a nationwide protest. “Whoever is behind these attacks should know that the safety of students is our red line,” Mohammad Habibi, a member of the union’s board of directors who has been arrested several times after calling for strikes, posted on social media. On Saturday, parents in Tehran took to the streets in protest

Few Iranians seem to believe that the symptoms are caused by “stress” as claimed by Vahidi, a former Revolutionary Guard general and defense minister who is wanted by Interpol on suspicion of involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which killed 85 people.

“What Vahidi claims is ridiculous,” the journalist Moloud Hajizadeh told DW. “The regime has installed a dense network of surveillance cameras over the past 10 to 15 years. The authorities even know when someone travels in a car without a headscarf. The car owner immediately receives an SMS and a warning. The security forces even say that they know exactly who is involved in which protest and when. Protesters are often arrested at home a few days later. And now they pretend they do not know how over 1,000 schoolgirls were poisoned?”