Iran’s interior ministry has confirmed that over 100 people have been arrested in connection with the suspected poisoning of hundreds of schoolgirls around the country in the past few months.
State-run IRNA news agency reported that the interior ministry said in a statement that authorities had “identified, arrested and investigated” people in several cities including Tehran.
“Initial inquiries show that a number of these people, out of mischief or adventurism and with the aim of shutting down classrooms and influenced by the created psychological atmosphere, have taken measures such as using harmless and smelly substances,” the statement read.
This comes after a spate of suspected poisonings were carried out at schools, affecting hundreds of schoolgirls since November last year.
Initially the authorities dismissed the reports but last month they noted a pattern had emerged. Some Iranian politicians have suggested the girls could have been targeted by hardline Islamist groups, while activists believe that the poisonings may be linked to the nationwide protests.
Medics, parents and teachers meanwhile have accused the Iranian government of attempting to silence the victims.
Last week however, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said the suspected poisonings were an “unforgivable crime” and called for “severe punishment” for anyone found responsible.
Iranian media meanwhile reported that according to the interior ministry, “individuals who have had hostile motives, tried to create fear and horror among people and students, shut down schools, and created pessimism toward” the government.
The ministry stated that the suspects would remain “under investigation until required assurances are achieved.” The ministry also stated that the number of incidents has decreased over the past few days.
CNN meanwhile reported that both the United States and United Nations have called on Iranian authorities to fully investigate the suspected poisonings and hold those responsible to account.
The White House on Monday said there must be a “credible, independent” investigation of poisonings among schoolgirls in Iran, suggesting it could be within the purview of the United Nations to look into the matter.
Questioned by CNN on Monday, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the situation could fall within the mandate of the UN’s independent fact-finding mission on Iran.
“We are closely following this deeply concerning situation that we’re seeing in Iran,” she said. “The continued poisoning of schoolgirls across Iran is unconscionable. There must be a credible, independent investigation (and) accountability for those responsible.”
She said if the poisonings were related to recent protests, it was “well within” the UN fact-finding mission’s mandate.
“The possibility that girls in Iran are being possibly poisoned for simply for trying to get an education is shameful, it’s unacceptable,” she said.