04/12/2023, 12.05
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Iranians protest new wave of poisonings of schoolgirls

On the return from the New Year holidays, numerous cases occurred in different cities, from Tehran to Urmia. The largest number in Saghez, Mahsa Amini's hometown, where the population has called several strikes against 'organised chemical attacks'. The authorities play down and blame the young people who want to stop classes.

Tehran (AsiaNews) - In the Islamic Republic there is a (new) wave of protest, involving several cities, against "mysterious" episodes of poisoning of schoolgirls in the country's schools, a phenomenon that has already been the object of attacks and popular discontent in recent weeks.

The episodes of gas attacks occurred when classes resumed, after a brief respite at the end of March for the New Year holidays in Iran. And even in this case, the authorities in Tehran show disregard for or blame the students, without succeeding in appeasing popular anger. 

Among the cities affected by the latest attacks are the capital Tehran, Karaj, Saghez, Sanandaj, Kermanshah, Urmia, Oshnavieh, Shahinshahr, Tabriz, Khoy and Amol. Of all of them, the one with the highest number of cases is Saghez, the hometown of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year old Kurdish woman killed by the morality police for not wearing the hijab properly and whose death raised a massive pro-rights protest, suppressed in blood.

In response to the new wave, residents in Saghez have launched numerous strikes in protest against what they call 'organised chemical attacks'. According to the Oslo-based activist website Hengaw, many parents have kept their daughters home from school out of fears for their safety and security. Also from Amol come videos and footage of enraged parents having heated discussions with local officials, including a religious leader.

The poisonings have been occurring for over five months, with thousands of cases ascertained by the authorities although the actual numbers remain uncertain, even over 13,000 according to activist and pro-human rights groups. The victims present a range of symptoms from nausea to temporary paralysis in the most severe cases.

At first the authorities denied the matter, only to change course radically in the last two weeks in the face of escalating numbers that made concealment impossible. In recent weeks, the government has made a number of arrests among the alleged perpetrators, without explaining their role in the affair or in what capacity they would be involved. 

The Mehr News Agency, close to the radical and religious wing, speaks in an editorial of a "very limited number of cases" trying - in vain - to reduce the scale of the phenomenon. 'Some students,' the article reads, 'played the victim or acted with malice, with the aim of interrupting the regular course of the lessons'.

The tone is different in an in-depth article published in the reformist daily Etemad, which criticises the authorities for their inability to produce a comprehensive report on the incidents, which ends up fuelling a sense of frustration and popular discontent. 

On social media, meanwhile, protests against the government and the radical and religious faction are mounting. The most common theory circulating on the net is that, through the attacks, the State intends to frighten the female students or punish them for having participated, often in the front line, in the protests that have been shaking the country's squares since September. According to some experts, in fact, it is precisely the defiant attitude and audacity of the young women, who have gone so far as to burn the compulsory veil and the portraits of the supreme guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that have triggered the harsh repression.

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