Poison attacks hit at least 26 girls' schools in Iran on Wednesday

Images shared on social networks show students outside of girls’ schools in Tehran, Iran on March 1, 2023 after a series of reported poisonings in the capital.
Images shared on social networks show students outside of girls’ schools in Tehran, Iran on March 1, 2023 after a series of reported poisonings in the capital. © Observers

Iranian officials have said they are investigating the mysterious poisonings of schoolgirls around the country over the past three months. One official has blamed the attacks on unspecified groups opposed to education for girls, but many Iranians believe that the state is itself behind these “chemical attacks”, to intimidate women and girls and keep them at home and out of school. Photos and videos shared online show the impacts of these widespread attacks, resulting in as many as 800 poisonings.


In Iran, hundreds of schoolgirls have reportedly been poisoned in mysterious attacks that have left them with symptoms ranging from headaches, dizziness, nausea, fainting and even loss of control of their limbs. 

On Wednesday alone, poisonings were reported at approximately 26 schools across Iran. This data is according to amateur videos and published reports analysed by the FRANCE 24 Observers, and is the highest number of attacks in one day so far. 

The attacks have impacted at least 800 people over the span of three months, according to BBC Persian. Girls have fallen sick in cities across Iran, including Qom, Tehran, Borujerd, Qazvin and Ardabil.

The first poisonings occurred in Qom, a holy city in Shi’a Islam, on November 30, 2022, when 18 students of the Nour Technical School were hospitalised. More than 10 other girls’ schools have been impacted in the region since then.

In this video, filmed in a Qom hospital and posted on Telegram on February 23, 2023, a woman says: “I am a mother. Look at my child in the hospital bed: she feels nothing in her legs. Even when I pinch her, she feels nothing; she cannot breathe. Do not send your children to school.”

Similar incidents were recorded in Pardis and Borujerd in late February. In Borujerd, a small town in western Iran, 194 girls were reportedly poisoned in the span of just a week. 

The girls’ high school in Borujerd was closed on February 23 due to two previous poisoning incidents. However, when the school reopened on February 25, 44 more students were poisoned. 

A video posted on Twitter on February 28, 2023 shows students at a girls’ school in Borujerd, Iran leaving their dormitories and feeling sick after smelling something strange.

On February 28, 35 students from the Khayyam Girls’ School in Pardis were hospitalised. 

A video posted on Telegram on February 28, 2023 at the Khayyam Girls’ School in Pardis, Iran shows students who have fallen ill after a suspected poisoning.

On March 1, another wave of poisonings were reported in Tehran, with four separate attacks reported at different schools in the capital. 

A video shows the scene after poisonings at two schools – 13 Aban Girls’ School and Hajar Girls’ School – in western Tehran on March 1, 2023. Parents outside chant, “Shame! Shame!”
A video shared on Telegram on March 1, 2023 shows ambulances and chaos at Yarjani Girls’ School in Tehran, Iran after a poisoning incident.
Photos shared on Telegram on March 1, 2023 show students, parents and emergency medical staff after a poisoning incident at Esmat Girls’ School in Tehran, Iran.

In each of the incidents, girls have reported smelling rotten fruit, mint or rotten eggs before the symptoms set in. Some students had to stay in the hospital for extended care and were ill still sick weeks after the incidents. 

A mother from Borujerd told Hammihan, a local media outlet, that her daughter is now dependent on machines to breathe. “The girl’s blood oxygen levels drop to dangerous levels when the machine is disconnected,” she said.

A doctor who spoke to the Guardian said that the students may have been poisoned with a “weak organophosphate agent”, which can be used in agricultural pesticides. 

So far, only one death has been reported: Fatemeh Rezaei, an 11-year-old girl, died in Qom on February 26. According to Iranian activists, she died after being poisoned at school, but authorities deny these reports.

The attacks have sparked fear and desperation in parents and schoolchildren alike, with many parents keeping their children home from school. A teacher in Qom told Radio Farda that only 50 out of the 250 students have been attending classes since the poisonings spiraled.  

Activists in contact with families whose children were victim of the poisonings told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that parents have been pressured by security forces not to talk about these incidents, either on social media or with the mainstream media.

Many Iranians speculate that the wave of poisonings are directly linked to the largest protest movement in the history of the Islamic Republic, over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in custody of the morality police. A number of young girls and women joined the protests across Iran, removing their headscarves and chanting slogans against the regime. 

Tens of thousands of Iranians were arrested during the protests, including high school students. Some say that Iranian authorities are retaliating for the demonstrations by poisoning young girls as a form of intimidation. 

>> Read more on The Observers: Iranian high schoolers join anti-regime protests as they return to school

Others say that religious extremists are behind the attacks in an attempt to close down girls’ schools. In 2012, hundreds of schoolgirls in Afghanistan were poisoned in several incidents, with similar symptoms. The attacks were also blamed on the Taliban – who oppose education for girls. The theory being that they want to spread fear to keep the girls from going to school.

At the stage, more than 500 schools closed down. 

Spokespeople from the government and police have said that authorities have launched an investigation into the attacks. 

“It was found that some people wanted all schools, especially girls’ schools, to be closed,” Iran’s deputy health minister, Younes Panahi, told IRNA.