Iran: Are poison gas attacks on schoolgirls the evil mullahs' revenge for nationwide protests? – Struan Stevenson

Outraged that young girls have dared to join the nationwide protests against the Iranian regime by staging strikes and walkouts in their schools, the misogynistic mullahs have developed a new and even more sinister form of retaliation.

Girls’ schools across Iran have been subjected to poison gas attacks, leaving many pupils seriously ill. The girls affected have reported the smell of tangerines or rotten fish before falling ill. Hundreds have been taken to hospital suffering from respiratory problems, nausea, dizziness and fatigue.

Gas attacks have been reported in Qom, Isfahan, Tabriz, Urmia, Ilam, Shiraz and the capital, Tehran. The mullahs have lamely tried to blame foreigners, or internal opponents of the regime. Some politicians have even accused emotionally charged adolescents of making false claims about the gas attacks.

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But there is mounting evidence that hardline factions within the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) – the regime’s Gestapo – have been behind the assaults as a way of punishing the schoolgirls for joining the nationwide ’Women, Life, Freedom’ uprising. The regime’s brutal crackdown on the six-month uprising has resulted in more than 750 deaths and 30,000 arrests.

Parents and young protesters have taken to the streets to voice their outrage. Several mothers and fathers of poisoned schoolkids have been viciously beaten by the IRGC and their Basij militia thugs in response.

According to the semi-official Mehr government news agency, the most recent cases of the poisoning were reported in Qom last week, when 44 girls were taken to hospital. The report said that three staff members, in addition to 30 students from a girls’ high school in Urmia, were also hospitalised.

Other media reports claim that the poisonings began last November, when thousands of schoolgirls could be seen tearing off their headscarves and chanting anti-government slogans, as the uprising following the death in police custody of the young Kurdish girl, Mahsa Amini, escalated.

Iran’s interior minister, Ahmad Vahidi, stated that no deaths of school pupils resulting from the alleged gas attacks had occurred, but that “suspicious samples” had been collected from 52 schools and were being tested. His claim has been denied by the Washington-based Iran International TV news channel, which reports that an 11-year-old girl, Fatemeh Rezaei, died from gas poisoning at a school in the holy city of Qom.

The regime’s deputy health minister, Younes Panahi, claimed that the girls had been poisoned by chemicals which “are publicly available” and “not miliary grade”. In February, a crowd of more than 100 angry parents gathered outside the governor’s office in Qom, with one father shouting: “You are obliged to ensure my children's safety! I have two daughters and all I can do is not let them go to school.”

A video of his furious outburst has been widely circulated on social media. Another woman could be seen shouting: “This is war. They are doing this in a girls' high school in Qom to force us to sit at home. They want girls to stay at home." Many parents have said that their children were ill for weeks following the gas attacks. Videos on social media have shown girls lying dazed on hospital beds while their parents sit beside them.

In a sign of panic at worldwide wrath at the gas attacks, the theocratic regime’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has finally broken his silence. In a recent statement, he said: "Authorities should seriously pursue the issue of students' poisoning. This is an unforgivable crime... the perpetrators of this crime should be severely punished." His apparent concern has been slated on social media, with many asking why the government has failed to arrest the perpetrators of such a large and coordinated campaign, while it has been ruthlessly efficient in killing and detaining anti-government protesters.

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There are approximately 40 million women in Iran, over half under the age of 30. At a time when women in the West have achieved political, economic, personal and social equality, Iranian women are amongst the most repressed in the world, ruled by a regime dominated by elderly, bearded misogynists.

Protests in Iran and across the world broke out after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died while in the custody of Iran's 'morality police' (Picture: Safin Hamed/AFP via Getty Images)Protests in Iran and across the world broke out after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died while in the custody of Iran's 'morality police' (Picture: Safin Hamed/AFP via Getty Images)
Protests in Iran and across the world broke out after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died while in the custody of Iran's 'morality police' (Picture: Safin Hamed/AFP via Getty Images)

It is little wonder that the current nationwide protests, which have continued in almost every town and city in Iran for six months, have often been led by or involved the participation of thousands of women, who often chant: “With hijab or without hijab, we march to revolution.” Female teachers, medical staff, students, factory workers and pensioners have taken to the streets to demand an end to corruption, an end to discrimination and repression, and an end to the clerical regime’s aggressive military adventurism across the Middle East. They have been joined by female secondary school and even primary school pupils, ripping off their headscarves and marching in protest, demanding the downfall of the mullahs’ regime.

Women’s dress codes are under constant scrutiny. They must wear the hijab and ‘morality police’ are on constant patrol to enforce the law. Women, particularly young women, are singled out for brutal attacks for the ‘crime’ of mal-veiling, as was the case in the brutal killing of Mahsa Amini by the morality police in September 2022.

It was this that sparked the ongoing insurrection led by women of all ages. The poison gas attacks are a sign of the mullahs’ frustration that mere schoolgirls could dare to defy their tyrannical laws. The West must not sit idly by as the poison gas attacks continue. The IRGC must be blacklisted as a terrorist organisation and the regime’s leaders should be held to account in the international courts for crimes against humanity and human rights abuse.

Struan Stevenson, a former member of the European Parliament, is the coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change and chair of the In Search of Justice committee on the protection of political freedoms in Iran. His latest book is entitled Dictatorship and Revolution. Iran – A Contemporary History.



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