Iran: Deliberate poisoning of schoolgirls further evidence of continuous violence against women and girls
16 March 2023
GENEVA (16 March 2023) – UN experts* today expressed outrage at the deliberate poisoning of more than 1200 schoolgirls in Iran’s major cities and the State’s failure to protect them, prevent further attacks and conduct swift investigations.
“The first reported poisoning of schoolgirls in Iran occurred on 30 November 2022, in the city of Qom. Since then, targeted chemical attacks against girls’ schools have been reported in 91 schools located in 20 provinces across Iran,” the experts said.
“The poisonings have already resulted in hundreds of schoolgirls being hospitalised. Many parents have removed their daughters from school for fear of these attacks,” they said.
“We are deeply concerned about the physical and mental well-being of these schoolgirls; their parents and the ability of the girls to enjoy their fundamental right to education. While arrests have just been announced, we remain gravely disturbed by the fact that for several months, State authorities not only failed to swiftly investigate the attacks, but repeatedly denied them until recently,” they added.
On 1 March 2023, Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi, whose Ministry leads the investigations was still dismissing the intentional nature of the attacks, stating that 90 per cent of reported cases could be attributed to “stress." State-affiliated media outlets similarly described the poisoning incidents as an attempt by students to miss exams.
The UN experts also expressed grave concern that a journalist who was covering these attacks was arrested in the city of Qom. “As of today, his fate remains unknown,” they said. “Similarly shocking was the video circulated on social media of a mother violently beaten in front of her children’s school, simply for demanding information.”
“All this is further evidence of a pattern by Iran authorities to silence all who try to report on or demand accountability for human rights violations,” the experts said. They recalled that two female journalists who reported on the death of Mahsa Amini remain in prison, and that Amini’s family had been subjected to all manner of reprisals and threats.”
The experts expressed concern about the sequencing of the attacks, which began only a few weeks after nationwide protests following Amini’s death. “We fear that they are orchestrated to punish girls for their involvement in the movement – Women, Life, Freedom, and for expressing their opposition to mandatory hijab and voicing their demands for equality.
“There is a stark contrast between the rapid deployment of force to arrest and jail peaceful protestors and an incapacity spanning months to identify and arrest perpetrators of large scale, coordinated attacks against young girls in Iran,” the experts said.
According to the experts, dozens of women human rights defenders, women and girls who participated in the protests following Mahsa Amini’s death remain in jail, and some of them have already been sentenced to prison terms. Recently several young women who filmed themselves dancing on the street without covering their hair were chased down and forced to apologise on State TV.
“Women and girls in Iran are once more the targets of the worst forms of systematic discrimination and violence, the experts said.