Poisoning Of Schoolgirls; Repression In Iran?

Attacks on female students in several local schools began in the holy city of Qom, Iran. Their crime? Deciding to continue studying. In just four months, 230 schools in 25 provinces of the Islamic Republic have been attacked, creating even more friction in the context of the recent protests. Protests originally began after the death of Masha Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish girl, killed by the morality police who accused her of violating the state’s modesty laws by not wearing the hijab properly.

In the aftermath of the tense environment in Iran, reports of schoolgirls being poisoned have also started to emerge. More than 100 people were arrested across the country for poisoning schoolgirls. Some male students were also allegedly poisoned by the gas, the specific nature of which is not yet known. In an interview with The Guardian, Masih Alinejad, an Iranian human rights activist, said the attacks are possible “revenge by the Islamic Republic” against schoolgirls who have been at the forefront of protests against the regime’s repression of women.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader, had clearly distanced himself from the events, promising “very severe punishments” and warning that there would be no amnesty for the perpetrators of the “unforgivable crime” committed against women. “The poisonings are a plan of the enemy,” President Ebrahim Raisi had said after calling for an internal investigation.

Reports of intoxication have increased in recent days, with schoolgirls describing that they perceived different smells, from paint to perfume to something burning. After the smells, they reported experiencing numbness of muscles and temporary paralysis. One of them, unfortunately, died as a result of the poisoning. “It certainly looks like a chemical or biological event,” Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a British chemical weapons expert, told C.B.S. News.

What is certain, according to the authorities, is that the arrested perpetrators belong to different groups. “Some of these people,” says the Ministry of the Interior, “aimed to shut down schools using malodorous and harmless substances.” Others are criminals whose goal was to close schools and spread pessimism against the system, creating fear among staff and students. According to the regime’s opponents, the poisonings were a form of revenge against the young who supported the protest for Mahsa Amini.

The government’s pledge in trying to arrest those involved in the attacks on young students is hard to believe when the government itself is using repression, killing dozens, passing sentences without proper trial, torturing for months in detention centers, and creating forced disappearances. Torture and other ill-treatment, including the refusal to provide prisoners with adequate medical care, have remained widespread and systematic. The death penalty is being widely used as well.

These atrocities, which should make the headlines every day, are unfortunately overshadowed by other news. It is, therefore, important to highlight what is happening in Iran, and how thousands of people are risking their lives for basic human rights; to receive an education, to dress how they want, to love who they want, to dance, to let their hair down. We often take these rights for granted but for so many people, it is costing their come lives.