An Iranian deputy minister on Sunday said «some people» were poisoning schoolgirls in the holy city of Qom with the aim of shutting down education for girls, state media reported.
Since late November, hundreds of cases of respiratory poisoning have been reported among schoolgirls mainly in Qom, south of Tehran, with some needing hospital treatment.
On Sunday the deputy health minister, Younes Panahi, implicitly confirmed the poisonings had been deliberate.
«After the poisoning of several students in Qom schools, it was found that some people wanted all schools, especially girls’ schools, to be closed,» the IRNA state news agency quoted Panahi as saying.
He did not elaborate. So far, there have been no arrests linked to the poisonings.
On February 14, parents of students who had been ill had gathered outside the city’s governorate to «demand an explanation» from the authorities, IRNA reported.
The next day government spokesman Ali Bahadori Jahromi said the intelligence and education ministries were trying to find the cause of the poisonings.
Last week, Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri ordered a judicial probe into the incidents.
The poisonings come as Iran has been rocked by protests since the death in custody last year of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, for an alleged violation of country’s strict dress code for women.
Amini’s father said she was beaten by the morality police, the enforcers of those rules. Her cousin, Erfan Mortezaei, who lives in self-exile in Iraq, believes she was tortured.
«She was tortured, according to eyewitnesses,» he told CBS News in September. «She was tortured in the van after her arrest, then tortured at the police station for half an hour, then hit on her head and she collapsed.»
Meanwhile, Iran’s currency fell to a new record low on Sunday, plunging to 600,000 to the dollar for the first time as the effects of nationwide protests and the breakdown of the 2015 nuclear deal continued to roil the economy.