UN experts expressed outrage Thursday over the deliberate poisoning of more than 1,200 schoolgirls in Iran's major cities and the state's failure to protect them, prevent further attacks and conduct swift investigations.
"The first reported poisoning of schoolgirls in Iran occurred on 30 November 2022 in the city of Qom," the experts said in a statement.
"Since then, targeted chemical attacks against girls' schools have been reported in 91 schools located in 20 provinces across Iran."
The experts noted that the poisonings had already resulted in hundreds of schoolgirls being hospitalized and many parents had removed their daughters from school.
"We are deeply concerned about the physical and mental well-being of these schoolgirls, their parents, and the ability of the girls to enjoy their fundamental right to education," they said.
While arrests had been announced, the experts remain "gravely disturbed" that for several months, Iranian state authorities failed to investigate the attacks swiftly and repeatedly denied them until recently.
On March 1, Iran's Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi, whose ministry is leading the investigations, was still dismissing the intentional nature of the attacks, stating that 90% of reported cases could be attributed to "stress."
Iranian state-affiliated media outlets described the poisoning incidents as an attempt by students to miss exams.
- Journalist arrested
The UN experts also expressed grave concern that a journalist covering the attacks was arrested in the city of Qom.
"As of today, his fate remains unknown," they said.
"Similarly shocking was the video circulated on social media of a mother violently beaten in front of her children's school, simply for demanding information."
Evidence points to a pattern by Iranian authorities of silencing anyone who tries to report on or demand accountability for human rights violations, the experts said.
They recalled that two female journalists who reported on the case of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman who died in police custody in September last year after she was detained by the country's morality police for not wearing her hijab properly, remain in prison and that Amini's family had been subjected to "all manner of reprisals and threats.”
The experts expressed concern about the timing of the attacks, only a few weeks after nationwide protests following Amini's death.
"We fear that they are orchestrated to punish girls for their involvement in the movement Women, Life, Freedom and for expressing their opposition to mandatory hijab and voicing their demands for equality," said the experts.
- Arrest of peaceful protestors
"There is a stark contrast between the rapid deployment of force to arrest and jail peaceful protestors and an incapacity spanning months to identify and arrest perpetrators of large-scale, coordinated attacks against young girls in Iran."
According to the experts, dozens of women human rights defenders, women and girls who participated in the protests following Mahsa Amini's death, remain in jail, while some of them have already received prison terms.
Recently several young women who filmed themselves dancing in the street without covering their hair were chased down and forced to apologize on state TV, said the experts.
"Women and girls in Iran are once more the targets of the worst forms of systematic discrimination and violence, the experts said.
The UN experts include Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran; Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Chair), Ivana Radačić (Vice-Chair), Elizabeth Broderick, Melissa Upreti and Meskerem Geset Techane, Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on the Right to education and Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and the Committee on the Rights of the Child.