- More than 1,000 schoolgirls have been poisoned in Iran
- The Supreme Leader says the perpetrators deserve the death penalty
- Poisoning is fueling passions after months of protests
DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s supreme leader said on Monday that poisoning schoolgirls is an “unforgivable” crime that should be punished with death if deliberate, state television reported, amid public outrage over a wave of suspected attacks in schools.
More than 1,000 girls have fallen ill after being poisoned since November, according to state media and officials, with some politicians blaming religious groups opposed to girls’ education.
The poisonings came at a critical time for Iran’s clerical rulers, after months of protests since the death of a young woman in police custody for violating veiling rules.
State television quoted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying, “The authorities should seriously pursue the issue of poisoning students.” “If it is proved that it was premeditated, the perpetrators of this unforgivable crime shall be sentenced to the death penalty.”
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The poisoning incidents began in November in the Shiite holy city of Qom and spread to 25 of Iran’s 31 provinces, prompting some parents to remove their children from schools and protest.
The authorities accused the “enemies” of the Islamic Republic of using the attacks to undermine the religious establishment. But the hard-line groups that serve as guardians of their interpretation of Islam have been skeptical.
In Washington, President Joe Biden’s press secretary called Monday’s poisonings shameful.
“The prospect of girls in Iran being poisoned just for trying to get an education is shameful, it’s unacceptable,” Karine Jean-Pierre told a news briefing.
The White House has called for an independent investigation to determine whether the poisonings were linked to the protests, which would make it within the mandate of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Iran.
‘The girls pay the price’
In 2014, people took to the streets of the city of Isfahan after a wave of acid attacks, which appeared to be intended to terrorize women who flouted strict Islamic dress codes.
For the first time since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, school girls are joining the protests that escalated after the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the morality police.
Some activists accused the foundation of masterminding the poisonings in retaliation.
“The girls of Iran are now paying the price for their fight against compulsory veiling, and they may be poisoned by the religious establishment,” Masih Alinejad, a prominent Iranian activist, wrote on Twitter.
Fearing a new outburst of protests, the authorities downplayed the poisoning incidents. A judicial investigation is still underway, although details of the findings have not yet been released.
State media reported that at least one boys’ school was targeted in the town of Brojer.
Additional reporting by Eloele Eloele in Donay and Jeff Mason in Washington. Written by Parisa Hafezi. Editing by Toby Chopra, Andrew Cawthorne, and Sandra Mahler
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