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Ayatollah Khamenei Condemns Unforgivable Suspected Poisonings


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Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday condemned a series of suspected poisonings of schoolgirls across the country.

Khamenei said that if it is proven that the poisonings were intentional, the perpetrators should be sentenced to death for committing an “unforgivable crime”.

It was the first time Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word on all state affairs, has spoken publicly about the suspected poisonings, which began late last year and sickened hundreds of children.

Iranian officials have only acknowledged it in recent weeks and have not provided any details about who might be behind the attacks or what chemicals – if any – were used.

Unlike neighboring Afghanistan, Iran has no history of targeting women’s education.

“If it is proven that the students were poisoned, those behind this crime should be sentenced to death and there will be no pardon for them,” Khamenei was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

Authorities have acknowledged suspected attacks on more than 50 schools in 21 of Iran’s 30 provinces since November.

Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said over the weekend that investigators had collected “suspicious samples,” without elaborating.

He called on the public to remain calm and accused unnamed enemies of inciting fear to undermine the Islamic Republic.

Vahidi said that at least 52 schools have been affected by suspected cases of poisoning, while Iranian media reports put the number of schools at more than 60. At least one pupil’s school was reported to have been damaged.

Videos of parents and schoolgirls in emergency rooms with IVs in their arms have gone viral on social media.

Iran has imposed severe restrictions on independent media since nationwide protests erupted in September, making it difficult to determine the nature and scope of suspected poisonings.

On Monday, Iranian media reported that the authorities had arrested a Qom-based journalist, Ali Portababaei, who regularly covered suspected poisoning cases.

The conservative Kayhan newspaper had called in its editorial for the arrest of newspaper publishers who published articles on the crisis that criticized the Iranian theocracy.

The protests erupted after the death of a young woman who had been detained by the morality police for allegedly violating the country’s strict dress code.

Conservatives in Iran are known to attack women who they deem to be immodestly dressed in public. But even at the height of Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, women and girls continued to attend schools and universities.

The poisoned children reportedly complained of headaches, heart palpitations, and feeling lethargic or unable to move. Some described the smell of tangerines, chlorine, or cleaning agents.

Reports indicate that at least 400 schoolchildren have fallen ill since November. Wahidi, the Minister of Interior, said in his statement that two girls are still in hospital due to chronic diseases. No deaths have been reported.

As more attacks came in on Sunday, videos circulated on social media showing children complaining of pain in the legs and abdomen and dizziness. The state media mainly referred to these “hysterical reactions”.

The World Health Organization (WHO) documented a similar phenomenon in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2012, when hundreds of girls across the country complained of strange smells and poisoning.

No evidence was found to support these suspicions and the World Health Organization said it appeared to be “mass mental illness”.

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