Iran announces arrests over schoolgirl poisonings
Leaders in Iran announced several arrests amid an ongoing wave of school poisonings. Tehran's Interior Ministry has accused some of those arrested of having ties to "foreign-based dissident media"
The Islamic Republic of Iran on Tuesday announced that several individuals had been arrested in six different provinces around the country in connection with an ongoing wave of poisonings mainly affecting schoolgirls.
Interior Minister Majid Mirahmadi told state media that Iranian intelligence agencies had made the arrests and would be "conducting a full investigation."
The poisonings, which started in late November, have affected more than 5,000 students at some 230 schools across 25 of the country's 31 provinces.
The Interior Ministry accused some of those arrested of having ties to "foreign-based dissident media" as well as having participated in ongoing nationwide protests — which the government describes as riots — over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody after being arrested for failing to correctly cover her hair in public.
"Three members of a team of four people arrested have a history of being involved in recent riots and their connection to foreign-based dissident media has been ascertained," read the Interior Ministry statement.
The Interior Ministry also claimed that one of those arrested used their own child to deliver irritants to their school before sharing footage of the aftermath with "hostile media."
Some politicians have nevertheless suggested the poisonings may have been carried out by religious groups opposed to educating girls.
What is known about the substance used in the poisonings?
Speaking with Iran's ISNA news agency Monday, parliamentary fact-finding committee member Mohammad-Hassan Asafari said: "Various tests are being carried out to identify the type and cause of the poisonings. So far, no specific information has been obtained regarding the type of poison used."
Affected students have suffered shortness of breath and nausea, even vertigo. Several have had to be hospitalized.
Deputy Health Minister Saeed Karimi suggested the poisonings may not be the result of gas, but rather "a powder or paste or even a liquid, which when poured over a heater or vaporized by heat can cause complications."
The most recent case, reported Tuesday, involved 40 schoolgirls in the southeastern city of Zahedan, which has been the site of deadly crackdowns on anti-government protesters.
How have poisonings affected anti-government sentiment in Iran?
The poisonings have further heightened anti-government sentiment in Iran, with citizens demanding action.
In response, President Ebrahim Raisi last week called the poisonings "the enemy's conspiracy to create fear and despair" among Iranians and ordered the Interior and Intelligence Ministries to provide continuous updates.
Tehran Chief Prosecutor Ali Salehi on Tuesday said: "Those who spread lies and rumors will be dealt with decisively and legally."
"In the past week, court cases and charges have been filed against the managers of the Hammihan, Rouydad24 and Shargh media, as well as several individuals," Salehi added.
On Monday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for those behind the "unforgivable crime" to be hunted down "without mercy" and if found guilty of intentionally carrying out attacks, be put to death.
According to the NGO Human Rights Activists in Iran, nearly 20,000 people have been arrested since protests began last September, while at least 527 have been killed by authorities in their efforts to quell the protests.
The Oslo-based NGO Iran Human Rights (IHR) says 109 individuals face execution for their roles in the protests. Four people have already been hanged.
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