Iranian flag over Tehran. Illustrative photo.
Tehran – The crisis surrounding the alleged poisoning of Iranian schoolgirls continues to grow, with the Iranian interior minister announcing that more than 50 schools are involved in the case. It was reported by the AP agency. In the past three months, hundreds of schoolgirls in the country have developed sudden respiratory problems, and some had to be hospitalized. It is not yet clear what or who is behind the alleged poisoning. Concerned parents of female students have taken to the streets of Tehran and other cities to protest in recent days.
The first cases were recorded last November in the city of Kom, which is an important site of Shiite Islam. Iranian officials believe the girls may have been poisoned and are blaming it on Iran's enemies.
According to the latest news, schools in 21 of Iran's 30 provinces are reporting suspected cases, with almost all incidents involving girls' schools. The incidents have raised fears that this is a deliberate attack aimed at forcing the closure of girls' schools.
Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said on Saturday, without further details, that investigators had obtained “suspicious samples” while investigating the incidents. The minister also called on the public to remain calm and accused the “hostile media” of inciting panic among the people. According to Vahidi, at least 52 schools have been affected by the alleged poisoning, Iranian media say there are more than 60. Among them is at least one school for boys.
Since last September, Iran's religious establishment has been called into question in protests that erupted after the death Mahsa Aminíová, a 22-year-old woman of Kurdish origin. She died when she was detained by morality police for wearing a hijab – the headscarf that a Muslim woman is supposed to cover her hair and cleavage and that women in Iran have been required to wear in public since the 1979 Islamic revolution – was too loose.
< p>Some Iranians speculate whether some of the poisonings are retaliation for the demonstrations. During them, social networks were flooded with videos of schoolgirls taking off their Muslim headscarves. Others believe the poisonings are the work of hardliners who want to emulate the Taliban in Afghanistan and the militant Islamist group Boko Haram in Nigeria by terrorizing parents into stopping sending their daughters to school.