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A crisis over suspected poisonings targeting Iranian schoolgirls escalated Sunday as authorities acknowledged over 50 schools were struck in a wave of possible cases. The poisonings have spread further fear among parents as Iran has faced months of unrest.
It remains unclear who or what is responsible since the alleged poisonings began in November in the Shiite holy city of Qom. Reports now suggest schools across 21 of Iran’s 30 provinces have seen suspected cases, with girls’ schools the site of nearly all the incidents.
The attacks have raised fears that other girls could be poisoned, apparently just for going to school. Education for girls has never been challenged in the more than 40 years since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran has been calling on the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan to allow girls and women return to school and universities.
Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi on Saturday said, without elaborating, that investigators recovered “suspicious samples” in the course of their investigations into the incidents, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. He called for calm among the public, while also accusing the “enemy’s media terrorism” of inciting more panic over the alleged poisonings.
However, it wasn’t until the poisonings received international media attention that hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi announced an investigation into the incidents on Wednesday.
Vahidi said at least 52 schools had been affected by suspected poisonings. Iranian media reports have put the number of schools at over 60. At least one boy’s school reportedly has been affected.
Videos of upset parents and schoolgirls in emergency rooms with IVs in their arms have flooded social media. Making sense of the crisis remains challenging, given that nearly 100 journalists have been detained by Iran since the start of protests in September over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. She had been detained by the country’s morality police and later died.
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