At least 52 schools had been affected by suspected poisonings, Iran’s interior minister Ahmad Vahidi said.
Iran leader Ayatollah Ali Khameneii has now announced that those behind the poisoning of over 1,000 schoolgirls should be sentenced to death for committing an ‘unforgivable crime‘ – if it is proven that attacks were deliberate.
It was the first time Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all matters of state, has spoken publicly about the suspected poisonings, which began last year.
According to DailyMail, the suspected poisonings began in late November, with hundreds of cases of respiratory poisoning reported among schoolchildren, with some needing hospital treatment.
The poisonings began in Qom, south of Tehran, but have now been reported throughout the country including at schools in the capital.
Officials have only acknowledged the incidents in recent weeks and have provided no details on who may be behind the attacks, or what chemicals – if any – have been used.
According to the state-run IRNA news agency, Khamenei said: ‘If the poisoning of students is proven, those behind this crime should be sentenced to capital punishment and there will be no amnesty for them.’
But the suspected attacks are said to be part of an extremist response to the protests led by women and girls that have swept Iran in recent months.
Protests were sparked across the country and the world following the death of Mahsa Amini, who died under suspicious circumstances in police custody in September.
Over the weekend, fresh protests against the suspected poisonings were seen in Iran and around the world.
Worried parents protested in Iran’s capital Tehran and other cities on Saturday, with a number gathering outside an Education Ministry building in western Tehran according to Reuters.
Further protests were held in Tehran and other cities including Isfahan and Rasht, unverified videos suggest.
Authorities have acknowledged suspected poisoning attacks at more than 50 schools across 21 of Iran’s 30 provinces since November.
Iran’s interior minister Ahmad Vahidi said over the weekend that ‘suspicious samples’ had been gathered by investigators.
He called on the public to remain calm and accused unnamed enemies of inciting fear to undermine the Islamic Republic.
Iranian media reports have put the number of schools at over 60.
At least one boys’ school has also been affected, according to reports.