(CNN) — Fears are growing in Iran after reports emerged that hundreds of schoolgirls have been poisoned across the country in recent months.
On Wednesday, Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency reported that Shahryar Heidari, a member of parliament, cited a statement by an unnamed “reliable source” about “nearly 900 female students being poisoned.”
According to Iranian state media, the first reported cases of poisoning occurred in the city of Qom on November 30, when 18 high school girls were hospitalized.
In another incident in Qom on February 14, more than 100 female students from 13 schools were taken to hospitals after what the state-run Tasnim news agency described as “poisoning cases”.
There were also reports of poisoning among schoolgirls in the capital, Tehran, where 35 schoolgirls were hospitalized on Tuesday, according to Fars news agency. The agency said they were in “good” condition, and many of them were later discharged.
State media have also reported cases of poisoning among applicants in recent months in several cities.
Many of the reports concerned female students in girls’ schools, but state media also reported at least one incident of poisoning in a boys’ school, on February 4 in Qom.
CNN contacted one of the schools that state media reported as having witnessed a poisoning incident, the Nur Yazdanshahr School in Qom, as well as teachers, but no response was obtained.
Iranian Health Minister Bahram Aynullah, who visited the affected female students in Qom on February 15, said symptoms included muscle weakness, nausea and fatigue, but that “the poisoning was mild,” according to a report in the official Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA).
Ain Allah added that his team took many samples from patients who were admitted to a hospital in Qom for further tests at the famous Pasteur Institute in Iran, which reported that no microbes or viruses were identified in the samples, according to ISNA.
It is not clear if the incidents are related and if the female students were targeted, but the Iranian deputy health minister in charge of research and technology, Yunus Panahi, said on February 26 that the poisonings were “chemical” in nature, but not synthetic materials used in wars, adding that The symptoms are not contagious, according to IRNA.
Panahi added that it appears that “the poisoning cases were deliberate attempts to target and close girls’ schools,” according to the news agency.
“After the poisoning of several female students in Qom, it became clear that people wanted to close all schools, especially girls’ schools,” Yunus Panahi said in a press conference on Sunday, according to Iranian state media. He later retracted, Fars news agency said. About the statement saying that he was wrong.
But the mother of two girls in Qom told CNN that her two daughters were poisoned in two different schools, and one of them suffered major health problems after being poisoned last week.
The mother spoke, on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation, and fears for the safety of her family. in walking.”
Activists and political figures called on the government to do more in investigating the poisoning incidents.
“The poisoning of female students in al-Banna schools, which was confirmed to be a deliberate act, was not accidental,” Mohammad Habibi, a spokesman for the Iranian Teachers’ Syndicate, said via Twitter on February 26.
Habibi is among a growing number of people who believe the poisoning may be linked to recent protests within the Women-Live-Freedom movement.
The movement has been marked by the outrage of women and young girls on issues ranging from freedoms in Iran to the dire state of the economy.
“In order to erase the gains made on the freedom to dress, the authorities need to increase public fear,” he wrote on Twitter.
In mid-February, Tasnim news agency reported that Iranian Education Minister Youssef Nouri said that “most of the cases of female students resulted from rumors that terrified people, and that there was no problem.”
Dan Cassetta, associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, spoke to CNN about the difficulties authorities may have in confirming such reports. “Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to investigate such incidents. This is often the way to go,” he said. The only way to detect the causative agent is to collect samples, and this is usually difficult or impossible.”
He added, “These current incidents in Iran are remarkably similar to dozens of incidents in schools in Afghanistan since approximately 2009. In a few of these incidents, pesticides were highly suspected, but most of the diseases remain unexplained.” It is difficult to use as an indicator, he said.
“It is believed that there is a malicious intent behind the poisonings,” said Jamila Kadior, a prominent Iranian politician and former member of Parliament. She wrote in an article in the government-run newspaper Etilat that “the persistence of poisonings in schools over the past three months proves that these incidents cannot be accidental and are Most likely as a result of organized collective action directed by think tanks and with specific goals.”
Iranian Minister of Education Youssef Nuri said, after visiting female students at Baqm Hospital, that a special team had been formed in Tehran to follow up on the matter, according to Tasnim.
Iran’s police chief, Ahmad Reza Radan, stated on February 28 that they are investigating the cause of the “poisonings” and that no one has been arrested and authorities are still trying to determine whether or not the alleged poisonings were deliberate, according to IRNA.
Meanwhile, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Wednesday at a press conference that reports of the poisoning of schoolgirls in Iran are “extremely disturbing.”
He added, “These are deeply disturbing and disturbing reports because women and girls everywhere have the right to education, which is a universal human right, and poisoning girls who are simply trying to learn is just an abhorrent act.” everything in its power to stop it and hold the perpetrators accountable.”