Over 1,000 girls have fallen ill after being poisoned since November, according to state media and officials, with some politicians blaming religious groups opposed to girls’ education.
Authorities have accused the Islamic Republic’s “enemies” of using the attacks to undermine the clerical establishment. But suspicions have fallen on hardline groups operating as self-declared guardians of their interpretation of Islam.
“Authorities should seriously pursue the issue of students’ poisoning,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as saying by state TV. “If it is proven deliberate, those perpetrators of this unforgivable crime should be sentenced to capital punishment.”
In Washington, President Joe Biden’s press secretary called the poisonings shameful on Monday.
“The possibility that girls in Iran are being possibly poisoned simply for trying to get an education is shameful, it’s unacceptable,” Karine Jean-Pierre said at a news briefing.
The White House called for an independent investigation to determine if the poisonings were related to protests, which would make it well within the mandate of the United Nations fact-finding mission on Iran.
In 2014, people took to the streets of the city of Isfahan after a wave of acid attacks, which appeared to be aimed at terrorizing women who violated the strict Islamic dress code.
For the first time since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, schoolgirls have been joining the protests that spiralled after Mahsa Amini’s death in morality police custody.
At least one boys’ school has also been targeted in the city of Boroujerd, state media reported.