By Zoe Sellers
Illustration By Lyss Tan
The first reported poison attack was in late November 2022, at the Noor Yazdanshar Conservatory in the northern city of Qom. Since then, 7,000 schoolgirls have been poisoned in 28 of Iran’s 31 provinces, with the Center for Human Rights alleging one death, 11-year-old Fatemeh Rezaei. Students across the country reported odors of rotten tangerines, strong perfume, or chlorine, before experiencing headaches, nausea, respiratory problems, and in some cases, temporary paralysis of their limbs.
According to Al Jazeera, the deputy health minister, Younes Panahi, was the first official to confirm the poison attacks as deliberate, telling state-linked media that “some people” wanted to prevent girls from attending school. Panahi later withdrew his statement, but Iranians living both in and outside of the country believe he was right.
Iran has arrested 110 suspects in connection with the attacks. “Initial inquiries show that a number of these people, out of mischief or adventurism and with the aim of shutting down classrooms and influenced by the created psychological atmosphere, have taken measures such as using harmless and smelly substances,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
However, claims of “harmless” substances stand in stark contrast to reports of respiratory issues, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and numbness of limbs.
These poison attacks come at a critical time, following months of protests and strikes. Young schoolgirls have taken an unprecedented role at the forefront of the demonstrations. The consensus among many Iranians is that the poison attacks are a response to their role in what has become a revolution.
On September 13th, 2022 Mahsa Amini was detained by the Morality Police in Tehran for allegedly not properly covering her hair. Three days later she died in police custody. The country-wide protests that erupted are a culmination of over 40 years of enduring compulsory hijab laws and regime violence.
When Ayatollah Khomeini became the official leader of the Islamic Republic after the 1979 Revolution, he swiftly announced that hijabs were mandatory to enter the workplace. Women took to the streets in protest and pro-Revolution forces responded violently. These forces later became the morality police, the institution responsible for Mahsa Amini’s death.
An Iranian-American with lots of family living in Iran recently spoke with The Paper but asked to remain anonymous for the safety of her family. She told us, ¨The main reason [for poisoning the schoolgirls] is very obvious in my eyes. It's retaliation. The schoolgirls are the ones who started the revolution. They are leading a movement to take back their country and the regime will go to any length to stop them.”
But poison attacks are only the most recent form of repression. Thousands have been killed, injured, and detained during protests.
“My cousin in Tehran is a victim of the regime’s violence. She was in a coma for three months, and they told us that it was an aneurysm. But my husband is a radiologist, and after we saw the MRIs, it was very obvious that she was hit with a baton,” our source told us.
Soon after the protests began, WhatsApp and Instagram, two widely used communication platforms, were restricted. And a nationwide shutdown of mobile networks severely restricted people’s ability to communicate.
“The regime listens to people’s phone calls and messages, They will shut the internet down. That’s why I had to find out about my cousin’s injuries from an MRI,” she added. Due to the regime’s monitoring of communication, the circumstances of her cousin’s attack are still unknown.
Iranians living in the United States, like our source, are highly critical of the governments response to the regime's blatant human rights violations. They want the United States to recognize the regime as a terrorist organization and to cease all negotiations with them, but they do not want the United States to step in.
Our source explained that Iranians began this movement, and they will be the ones to see it through. “The people of Iran don’t need to be saved, but they need the rest of the world to stop saving the regime.”