100 Arrested in Connection With Iran School Girl Poisonings. What We Know So Far
Activists from New York-based Iranian women's rights group group Woman Life Freedom attend a rally condeming the mass poisoning of Iranian female students, in New York, NY, on March 11, 2023. Credit - ED JONES—AFP/Getty Images
More than 100 people in Iran have been arrested in connection to the suspected poisoning of thousands of school girls in the country in recent months.
Iran’s Interior Ministry said in a statement that arrests and investigations have taken place across numerous cities, including Tehran. Toxic gas attacks have been impacting thousands of students, mostly girls, since November, when the first poisoning took place.
“Initial inquiries show that a number of these people, out of mischief or adventurism and with the aim of shutting down classrooms and influenced by the created psychological atmosphere, have taken measures such as using harmless and smelly substances,” the Ministry wrote in the statement.
Activists have long said they believe the attacks were caused by religious groups that oppose girls’ education. Others believe the attacks are also meant to stifle young girls because of their participation in the months-long protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody in September for allegedly wearing her hijab too loosely.
Here’s what we know about the arrests.
Who was arrested?
Little information has been released about the arrests and no suspects have been publicly identified. However, Iran’s Interior Ministry did reveal in a statement that those arrested were people with “hostile motives” who “tried to create fear and horror among people and students, shut down schools,” and wanted to paint the Iranian government in a bad light.
The Ministry also added that the number of poisonings had decreased in recent days after the arrests. It is not clear when the arrests took place.
The investigation is ongoing.
What do we know about the attacks?
The first poisoning attack occurred on Nov. 30 in the city of Qom, causing 18 schoolgirls to be hospitalized. Since then there have been attacks in at least 290 schools across 28 provinces, the Associated Press reports.
At least one student, 11-year-old Fatemeh Razaei, has allegedly died because of the poisonings. Iranian journalist Hedie Kimiaee previously tweeted that the young girl died because of a toxic gas attack at her school in the city of Qom, but she, like many activists, accused Iranian authorities of attempting to hide information about the case.
Many other young girls have been hospitalized due to respiratory issues, nausea and more as a result of the poisonings. At least 26 schools have been targeted in the attacks, according to local media outlets. Mohammed Hassan Asefari, an Iranian lawmaker who is investigating the attacks, last said that some 5,000 students had become sick because of the poisonings, though Iranian media outlets report the number as closer to 1,000.
The poisonings have prompted many parents to keep their children home from school for their safety . Others have been protesting to get the attention of officials.
Following the rising frequency of these events, government leaders agreed they would help find the perpetrators. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi ordered Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi to investigate the cause of the toxic gas poisoning “as quickly as possible,” on Feb. 24.
Many politicians see the poisonings as an attempt to undermine the state, and are advocating for suspects to be charged with the highest offenses. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, for instance, said the attack an “unforgivable crime,” calling for the perpetrators to be given the most severe penalty, according to the New York Times.
Other officials, like Judiciary Chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, said that those involved in the crime would face the charge of “corruption on earth,” meaning suspects could face the death penalty.