The number of schoolchildren affected by poisonings in Iran has risen to more than 5,000, a lawmaker investigating the cases has revealed.
Since the first infection in late November, the shock wave of poisonings has mainly targeted female students, some of whom required hospital treatment.
The mysterious poisonings have gripped Iran, sparking a wave of angry protests and pleas from concerned parents for action from the authorities.
They have also sparked international condemnation, as well as calls from the West for an independent inquiry amid concerns that extremist religious groups want women and girls out of the classroom.
Yesterday, the White House said investigating the poisonings could fall under the mandate of the United Nations.
The number of schoolchildren affected by poisonings in Iran has risen to more than 5,000, according to a researcher. Pictured: People gather around an ambulance outside a girls’ school after reports of poisoning in Fardis, Alborz province
Mohammad-Hassan Asafari, a member of the parliamentary commission of inquiry currently investigating the poisonings, told ISNA news agency yesterday: “Twenty-five provinces and about 230 schools have been affected and more than 5,000 schoolgirls and boys have been poisoned. .’
‘Various tests are being carried out to find out the type and cause of the poisonings. So far no specific information has been obtained about the type of poison used.’
The first cases were reported shortly after the start of nationwide protests sparked by the death of Iranian Kurd Mahsa Amini, 22, following her arrest for allegedly violating Iran’s strict dress code for women.
“If these poisonings are related to participation in protests, then it is well within the mandate of the UN’s independent international fact-finding mission to investigate Iran,” said White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre.
She further called for a “credible independent investigation” into the poisonings.
Dozens of schools have been affected by the suspicious attacks, with students experiencing symptoms ranging from shortness of breath to nausea and dizziness after reporting “unpleasant” odors on school grounds.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the poisonings an “unforgivable crime” and ordered the perpetrators to be tracked down “without mercy” on Monday.
According to the state news agency IRNA, Khamenei said: “If the poisoning of students is proven, those behind this crime should be sentenced to death and there will be no amnesty for them.”
A person is taken to an ambulance outside a girls’ school after reports of poisoning in Ardabil, Iran
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (pictured) has stated that those responsible for poisoning more than 1,000 schoolgirls should be sentenced to death if the attacks are proven to be intentional
A young woman is in hospital after reports of poisoning at an unknown location in Iran
It was the first time that the country’s Supreme Leader, who has the final say on all state affairs, spoke publicly about the suspected poisonings.
Last week, President Ebrahim Raisi instructed the Interior Ministry to keep abreast of the investigation.
The ministry has so far not announced any arrests, even as new cases continue to be reported.
“Less than five percent of students transferred to hospital were found to have irritants that led to their poor health,” the ministry said in its latest update Monday.
‘Fortunately, no toxic or hazardous substances have been found in students who have been transferred to medical centers so far.’
White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre called for a “credible independent investigation” into the poisonings in a briefing yesterday.
The latest case – reported by the ISNA news agency – involved 40 students, all women, in the troubled southeastern town of Zahedan.
The first cases were reported in Qom, Iran’s Shiite capital, in late November, a month after the Amini protests that later spread to universities and schools.
On Tuesday, Tehran prosecutor Ali Salehi warned “those who spread lies and rumors” about the poisonings that “they will be dealt with decisively and legally,” the judiciary’s Mizan Online website reported.
Officials have only acknowledged the incidents in recent weeks have not provided details about who may be behind the attacks, or what chemicals – if any – were used.
Protests erupted across the country and the world following the death of Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody in September. Pictured: Protesters hold a sign depicting Amini at a rally in Brussels, Belgium
People in Rome, Italy took part in the ‘Freedom Rally for Iran’ demonstration against the Iranian regime last month
Unlike neighboring Afghanistan, Iran has no history of religious extremists targeting women’s education.
But the suspected attacks have been seen by some commentators as part of an extremist response to the protests led by women and girls that have swept Iran in recent months.
Protests erupted across the country and the world following the death of Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody in suspicious circumstances in September.
Over the weekend there were new protests against the suspected poisonings in Iran and around the world.
Concerned parents protested in Tehran, Iran’s capital, and other cities on Saturday. Several gathered outside a building belonging to the Ministry of Education in western Tehran, according to Reuters.
Further protests were held in Tehran and other cities including Isfahan and Rasht, unverified videos suggest.