Iran has arrested more than 100 people “in connection with” the alleged poisoning of hundreds of schoolgirls across the country, according to state news agency IRNA.
Citing a statement from Iran’s Interior Ministry, IRNA said the people had been “identified, arrested and investigated” in several cities, including the capital Tehran.
“Initial investigations show that a number of these people, out of malice or adventurism and with the aim of closing the classrooms and influenced by the psychological atmosphere created, took measures such as the use of harmless substances and smelly,” the statement read.
Iran has seen a wave of suspected poisonings in recent months, almost entirely in girls’ schools.
While Iranian politicians have suggested the girls may have been targeted by extremist Islamist groups, activists believe the poisonings may be linked to nationwide protests that erupted last September over the death of Mahsa Ami. Many schoolgirls took an active part in the protests, removing their compulsory headscarves in classrooms, tearing up pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and calling for his death.
Doctors, parents and teachers accused the Iranian government of trying to silence the victims.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had previously called the alleged poisonings an “unforgivable crime” and called for “severe punishment” for anyone found responsible.
Among those arrested, the ministry said, were “individuals who had hostile motives, attempted to instill fear and horror among people and students, closed schools and created pessimism towards” the Iranian government. .
They would remain “under investigation until the required assurances are obtained”, the statement said, adding that the number of poisoning cases in girls’ schools across the country had decreased “over the past few days”.
The first suspected poisonings occurred in November at a high school in the city of Qom which saw 18 schoolgirls hospitalized, according to Iranian state media.
A mother of two girls from Qom previously told CNN that the two girls, who attended different schools, suffered significant health issues after being poisoned.
One girl experienced nausea, shortness of breath and numbness in her left leg and right hand while the other now had “difficulty walking”, she said.
Growing alarm in Iran after hundreds of schoolgirls were poisoned
Another incident in the city took place in February when more than 100 students from 13 schools were hospitalized after what Iranian state news agencies described as “serial poisonings”.
The United States and the United Nations have called on Iranian authorities to thoroughly investigate the alleged poisonings and hold those responsible to account.
The White House said on Monday there must be a “credible and independent” investigation into the poisonings of schoolgirls in Iran, suggesting it may be within the purview of the United Nations to look into the matter.
Previously, the Biden administration had noted that Iran itself was conducting an investigation. But when asked by CNN’s Phil Mattingly on Monday, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the situation could fall within the mandate of the UN’s independent fact-finding mission on Iran.
“We are closely following this deeply worrying situation that we see in Iran,” she said. “The continued poisoning of schoolgirls across Iran is unconscionable. There must be a credible and independent investigation (and) accountability of those responsible.
She said that if the poisonings were linked to recent protests, it was “well within” the mandate of the UN fact-finding mission.
“The possibility of girls in Iran being poisoned just for trying to get an education is shameful, it’s unacceptable,” she said.