What do you do when hundreds of schoolgirls come out on the streets and hold demonstrations against a hostile government? Carry out an attack by poisoning hundreds of girls; Create a culture of fear and potentially silence future protests?
In a series of mysterious incidents, over 1,000 students especially schoolgirls all across Iran are suffering from dizziness and nausea because of a poisonous gas attack, which many human rights activists say is a ‘deliberate’ targeting by the government after the recent protests in Iran.
In early December, people started taking note of these incidents. 18 schoolgirls fell ill and were taken to hospital on 30 November.
And earlier this week, it was reported that dozens of students from 26 different schools were sent to hospitals after suddenly developing respiratory issues, nausea, dizziness, and exhaustion.
But the government has not said whether it believes they are premeditated.
Although there have been a few cases of male students and teachers being affected, girls have been “primarily targeted” or got sick in the majority of cases—at both elementary and high schools.
The motivations of the perpetrators remain unclear, but Iran’s deputy health minister Younes Panahi said this week that the attackers wanted “to see all schools closed, in particular, girls’ schools”.
Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a former reformist vice-president, compared the attacks to those carried out by Boko Haram, the violent Nigerian militant Islamic group that opposes female education.
The targeting of girls comes in the wake of months of anti-government street protests that erupted in September, with demonstrators calling for the Islamic republic to be replaced by a new secular administration. Many girls removed their mandatory headscarves as a sign of defiance and protest and came out in public asking for reform and justice.
“Woman, Life, Freedom”, became a slogan for change. Girls were leading the demonstrations all across the country.
Abdollah Momeni, a former student leader, said on Twitter: “What else does such behavior mean but terrifying and intimidating innocent girls?” He added that the “students are paying for their presence in the movement of Woman, Life, Freedom”.
Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi encouraged people not to be misled by rumors as the government came under growing pressure to conduct an investigation.
The interior minister also accused foreign-based media and “mercenary groups” of spreading misinformation and taking advantage of the situation to wage psychological war and create panic.