Since November, thousands of Iranian students have been attacked with toxic gas in Qom and Tehran in Iran.
The deadly attacks have been deliberately targeting girls as the religious groups carrying out the attacks oppose their education and are attempting to force schools to close.
BBC’s research indicates that at least 830 students have been victims of the gas attacks; however, a Member of Parliament in Qom estimates 1200 students in Qom and Borujerd alone have been subject to the gas attacks. The girls who have suffered from these poisonous attacks struggled with respiratory problems, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue, with many seeking medical attention at local hospitals.
Investigations have been underway to determine the chemicals used in the gas attacks. The chairman of the parliamentary education committee, Alireza Monadi-Sefidan, noted that an investigation found nitrogen in the toxic gas; however, the interior minister denied these statements by concluding that the specific chemical substance detected was false.
Some of the statements given to the BBC by parents of those girls who had been affected by one of the gas attacks in Tehran are as followed:
“My daughter and two of her friends say they heard something like an explosion, and immediately afterward, an unpleasant smell – something like burned plastic filled the air.”
“They were asked to leave class and go into the yard. Many of the students started collapsing in the yard. There are kids with asthma and heart problems in my daughter’s class.”
“Ambulances and the police arrived. Kids were given milk by the ambulance staff.”
The president of Iran tasked interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi to find the cause of the poisonings. However, Vahidi concluded with an accusation against “foreign-based media and mercenary groups of taking advantage of the situation to wage psychological war and worry people.”
Other people, such as pupils and parents, have also stated their beliefs that the targeting of the schoolgirls was due to their affiliation with recent anti-government protests. The protests in question erupted in September after the horrific death of Mahsa Amini, who was detained by the morality police for allegedly failing to wear her headscarf properly in accordance with the law. With this said, the Iranian government has not indicated as of yet whether or not the gas attacks were actually premeditated.
A specific incident of censorship for these attacks centres around the death of 11-year-old Fatemeh Rezaei. In fact, the Center for Human Rights in Iran has noted that Rezaei died as a result of these violent gas attacks. It has gone unconfirmed by Iranian authorities – in fact, they are denying these allegations, as noted on February 7, 2023, by Iranian journalist and children’s rights activist Hedie Kimiaee.
Kimiaee tweeted about her death and stated that the Iranian authorities were attempting to suppress the information regarding this case: “Even though this student had no prior illness, the authorities are trying to write a false medical report saying she had a long history of illness. Qom’s prosecutor has also warned the family not to talk to the media [and told them to] bury Fatemeh without notice].
The attacks on women’s education are intensifying in the middle east. Between Afghanistan’s ban on Women’s post-secondary education and Iran’s poisonous gas attacks, the clear message that women are not to be educated is radically apparent. Despite the attacks, violent actions are being greatly censored by Iranian authorities. There are many inconsistencies in the words given by officials regarding the investigations of the numerous gas attacks, Leading to greater suspicions and speculations.
One thing that is known for certain is that girls in Iran cannot expect to feel safe in their schools and are being threatened while trying to learn. Girls in Iran cannot expect to receive an education if they constantly fear for their health or lives. Therefore, the gas attacks on these school-aged girls are a violent expression of educational rights violations.