Iran: Wave of Chemical Attacks Sickens, Hospitalizes Thousands of Iranian Schoolgirls

Regime Did Nothing for Months… Now Arrests Those Exposing and Protesting This Crime

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A group of women in Tehran with their placards, banners and slogans, condemning the chemical attacks on female students, shouting the slogans of the revolution “Women, Life, Freedom.” Photo via Twitter: @enghelabezanane

Now schoolgirls are getting poisoned across Iran.

Life in the Islamic Republic of Iran has always been an oppressive nightmare for women and girls: patriarchal subordination, forced marriage as early as at age 13 years, denial of basic rights, and violent suppression. These horrors were concentrated in the September 16, 2022 murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for supposedly violating the regime’s medieval dress codes which forbid women showing even a lock of hair.  

But this time, the rage of women and men erupted like never before as tens of thousands took to the streets across Iran, protesting day after day for months.1

Now, in yet another outrage, it turns out that at the end of November, as protests, including in schools, were surging, young women and girls suddenly began getting sick while they were at school. They began experiencing respiratory symptoms, nausea, burning throats, fatigue and numbness, apparently from exposure to some kind of toxic gas or chemicals. In many of these incidents some girls passed out or collapsed in the school or schoolyard and/or had to be hospitalized.

Because the government has refused to provide accurate information, it is difficult, if not impossible, to get precise figures on the number of incidents and students impacted. The attacks reportedly began in the city of Qom, a religious center south of Tehran. Over the past three months, poison attacks on school students have been reported in at least 297schools—overwhelmingly girls’ schools—in 103 cities across 29 of Iran’s 31 provinces.2

Out of these 297 instances, school or government officials specified the number of affected students in only 103 cases. The number of affected students currently comes to over 7,000 (7,168)—far higher than the official record! According to one Iranian legislator, some 5,000 had sought medical treatment and many had been hospitalized.3

Horrifically, the attacks are continuing. HRANA reports that on March 8, “Poison attacks on school students continue sweeping across Iran as 46 schoolgirls, along with three boys and a school bus driver, in Neyriz, 5 schoolboys in Sanandaj, 10 schoolgirls in Rijab, Kermanshah, and 14 in TorbatJam were taken to hospital.”

Dodging and Denial from Iran’s Murderous Regime

For months, Iran’s Islamic fundamentalist rulers refused to even confirm that these poisonings were taking place, make any statements or take any actions about them! For quite some time, their main response was to deny that these incidents were happening, dismissing them as “rumors,” or denying that anything criminal or premeditated was taking place.

It wasn’t until mid-February, two-and-a-half months after the attacks began, that regime officials began to address the crisis. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei didn’t utter a word until March 6. (Khamenei  called the attacks an “unforgivable” crime and denied any government role, and said the regime would punish the perpetrators.4)

What the regime has taken swift action against is those who would protest or expose the dimensions of this atrocity. On March 9, the regime arrested one blogger who had been covering the protests and took down his Instagram account (which had 700,000 followers).

It has also launched court proceedings against other reporters and newspapers, which Reporters Without Borders (RSF) described as an apparent attempt to control the news about the poisonings. The Islamic Republic has also targeted prominent reformists, accusing them of “spreading lies and rumors.”5

A group of leading lawyers has denounced the regime, writing “The Islamic Republic has not only taken no effective preventive or investigative action to stop or uncover the truth,” but instead responded with “contradictory statements, recklessness, and suppression of protesting families.”6

March 7: “Death to the child-killing regime”

Parents protest the poisoning of Iranian students, mainly girls, March 2023.    Photo: Human Rights Activists in Iran

On March 7, parents, teachers, some students who’d been sickened in attacks, and others turned out in some 27 cities across Iran, including Tehran, Shiraz, Mashhad, Rasht, and Sanandaj, to denounce the government’s response to the poisonings. This was in response to a call from the national teachers’ union for nationwide strike, sit-ins and demonstrations.

Gathering at schools and Ministry of Education offices, some protesters chanted “Death to the child-killing regime” or held signs saying “Protect the safety of schools.” Some university students did guerrilla theater protests—lying on the ground, pretending to suffocate. Parents told reporters they were terrified of sending their children to school and didn’t trust the government’s response. “I am not sending my son to school as long this situation continues—I will not risk something happening to him for the sake of education,” said one mother.7

In a number of cities, regime forces attacked these peaceful protests with tear gas and tried to arrest protesters. Note the sickening irony that people protesting their children being gassed are themselves being gassed!

A Murderous Misogynist Regime

At this writing, the exact nature of these attacks on students is not clear. Nor is it clear exactly who is behind them nor their specific motivation.

However, some things are clear:

First, these attacks represent a terrible crime against the people of Iran, especially women and girl students. The immediate physical impact is an atmosphere of terror among students, parents, teachers, and educators. There is a possibility that these attacks could be used to further curtail women’s rights, in particular educational rights in Iran!

Second, the Islamic Republic of Iran is a monstrously oppressive, blood-soaked regime and one of its core pillars is the brutal oppression and subjugation of women and girls. Since this latest uprising kicked off on September 16 with Mahsa Amini’s murder, this regime has proven to be utterly ruthless—killing over 500 overwhelmingly unarmed protesters, arresting over 19,000, torturing many of them and even executing four people for the “crime” of protesting injustice.

Third, as the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) has declared, this is a regime that must be overthrown through revolution at the soonest possible moment:

To finally put an end to the seemingly endless suffering of Iran’s people requires a real revolution, made by millions of people and led by a revolutionary vanguard with the aim of overthrowing the Islamic theocratic fascist regime and liberating Iran out of the murderous fabric of the capitalist-imperialist system. This requires a communist revolution and establishing a “New Socialist Republic.”—People of the World: Take up the Cry of Revolution from Iran as Your Own!

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FOOTNOTES:

1. For background, see Iran, 100 Days and Counting: Righteous Mass Uprising Against Patriarchy and Oppression Rocks Fascist Theocracy, revcom.us, January 2, 2023. [back]

2. According to data collected by HRANA (Human Rights Activists News Agency), “between Nov 22 and Mar 8, at least 297 schools and educational institutions reported poisoning attacks. These included 113 high schools, 38 elementary schools, 23 middle schools, and two student dormitories.” Of these 224 were girls schools and 18 boys schools. Statistical Report on Recent Poison Attacks on Schools, HRANA, March 8. [back]

3. Outraged Over Illnesses Among Schoolgirls, Iranians Return to Streets, New York Times, March 7. See also, Hundreds of Schoolgirls Fall Sick in Iran, and Officials Suspect Poisoning, New York Times, March 1. On March 8, a guest on Democracy Now! reported that “According to the group Human Rights Activists in Iran, there have been at least 290 suspected school poisonings in recent months, sickening at least 7,000 students with symptoms including headaches, fatigue and more.” [back]

4. Outraged Over Illnesses Among Schoolgirls, Iranians Return to Streets, New York Times, March 7. [back]

5. Iranian Blogger Arrested Over Comments On School Poisonings, IranWire.com, March 10; Outraged Over Illnesses Among Schoolgirls, Iranians Return to Streets, New York Times, March 7. [back]

6. 20 Prominent Iranian Lawyers Call on UN to Investigate School Girl Poisonings, Center for Human Rights in Iran, March 6. [back]

7. Teachers and Other Citizens Stage Nationwide Rallies against Poison Attacks on School Students, HRANA, March 8; Outraged Over Illnesses Among Schoolgirls, Iranians Return to Streets, New York Times, March 7. HRANA sums up, “In response to these incidents, there have been [all told since the attacks began] forty-five protests in thirty-two cities.” [back]