Issued by CEMO Center - Paris
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Protests Erupt Across Iran Over Poisoning of Schoolgirls and Government Inaction

Wednesday 08/March/2023 - 09:44 AM
The Reference
Ahmed Seif EL-Din

Protests broke out in several Iranian cities on Tuesday as parents, teachers, and students took to the streets over what they believe to be the poisoning of thousands of schoolgirls. Videos posted on social media show protesters chanting "Death to the child-killing regime" and holding signs that read "Protect the safety of schools."

The school illnesses have sparked public outrage, with many Iranians calling for an end to the Islamic Republic's rule. These protests mark the first time in two months that several Iranian cities have seen such unrest. This follows the large uprisings led by women and girls that took place last year, which were met with a violent government crackdown that included mass arrests and the execution of four protesters.

On Tuesday, hundreds of parents, teachers, and ordinary citizens gathered outside schools and local offices of the Ministry of Education in Tehran, Shiraz, Mashhad, Rasht, Sanandaj, and other cities. Some students staged theatrical protests where they lay on the ground and pretended to suffocate. Videos show security forces unleashing tear gas against peacefully protesting teachers and parents and attempting to arrest them.

The Interior Ministry has announced that it has arrested several people in five provinces in connection with the episodes. The spokesman for the armed forces, Gen. Saeed Montazer Al-Mahdi, claimed that the arrested individuals had carried out attacks to "create insecurity and chaos" and accused them of acting on behalf of foreign agents and news media. However, the explanation for the illnesses remains unclear, and theories offered by officials have ranged from deliberate poisoning to mass hysteria.

The school illnesses began three months ago in Qom, and since then, they have spread to over 200 schools, including college dormitories, in 27 of Iran's 31 provinces. On Monday, one lawmaker, Mohammad Hassan Asafari, said that at least 5,000 students had sought medical treatment for symptoms of poisoning. The judiciary has targeted journalists, media publications, and prominent public figures from the reformist political faction, accusing them of "spreading lies and rumors."

Parents interviewed in Iran said that they were afraid to send their children to school and did not trust the government investigation. Some have decided not to send their children to school until their safety and health are guaranteed. A group of twenty Iranian lawyers has called on the United Nations to investigate the school illnesses, citing the government's lack of competence and willingness to investigate and its record of violence against women and girls.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has condemned the "poisoning" of schoolchildren and called for the perpetrators to face the maximum penalty. However, as the situation in Iranian schools remains uncertain, protests are likely to continue.