State suspected of gas attacks on schoolgirls in Iran

School girls at the Jameh Mosque- Yazd, Iran. Photo by Stefano Vigorelli, 2014, used under CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

The feminist revolution in Iran has been ongoing for almost a year, gaining momentum after the brutal murder of Jina Mahsa Jina Amini, a 21-year-old Kurdish woman in September 2022. These protests have become the largest and most radical demonstrations against the Islamic Republic in Iran's history, leading to widespread strikes and acts of civil disobedience. 

The regime has faced significant stress and has responded with a campaign of repression and brutality that matches the intensity of the protests. A recent incident involving the gassing of schoolgirls has brought about confusion, panic, and terror throughout the country. The regime's reaction, coupled with the persistent resistance shown by the people, has led many to believe that the days of the regime are numbered

Poisoning of schoolgirls with toxic gas

Allameh Tabataba'i university students protest against mass poisonings of Iranian schoolgirls, February 27, 2023. By Student News Agency Used under CC BY 4.0. license

The attack against school girls in Iran demands thorough examination, particularly considering the significant role women and young girls have played in recent protests. This is partly why girls and women are now subjected to special targeting by the regime.

Iranian human rights organizations reported that more than 7,000 schoolgirls have been affected by wave-like mass gas attacks that swept through Iran's schools. These attacks, which began in November of last year, are believed to have taken place in at least 99 schools across 28 provinces in the country. So far, as many as 81 attacks have been recorded in just one day.

According to a report by CNN, government officials have attempted to hush up the gas attacks. The minister of education went as far as blaming the students for their own poisoning, while the minister of health claimed that in “95 percent of the cases, symptoms were the result of mental and psychological tensions and not gas attacks.”

The government's apathy sparked widespread outrage and protests from the schoolgirls’ families, which pushed the regime to “identify and arrest” hundreds of alleged perpetrators, placing the blame on the opposition. 

However, the fact that these attacks have been ongoing since last year, their scope, and spread, as well as the high-security measures in the country's schools, suggest that the regime may be involved or complicit in these incidents.

Concerns have been raised by UN experts regarding the regime's apparent inability to identify and apprehend those responsible for large-scale and coordinated attacks targeting young girls in Iran, in stark contrast to their swift action against peaceful protesters, suggesting the involvement of the regime. A statement from the UN's Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) said:

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.

Gender apartheid in Iran

Women at a city square in Iran. Photo by anonymous. Wikimedia Commons under CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain License

Iran is deeply entrenched in gender apartheid, which is expressed in its pursuit of total control over women's lives. With laws that uphold male dominance over women. This systemic gender inequality manifests through various discriminatory practices. For instance, child marriages as young as age 5 and different ages for criminal responsibility between girls and boys highlight the disparity. Civil law favoring men as heads of households often leads to mothers losing custody and unequal treatment in courts. Inheritance laws, passport permissions, professional restrictions, divorce requirements, the lack of recognition of marital rape, and the enforced dress code further contributes to gender inequality and perpetuate discrimination against women.

This inequality led young women in Iran to demand fundamental universal rights and equality under the law. The support for their cause seems to be widespread, with a broad consensus across the population that achieving these rights can only be accomplished through a regime change. 

What stands out is that the people of Iran no longer have faith in the reformist-conservative dichotomy that has defined the regime’s politics for at least 25 years. Instead, the people are demanding the complete dismantling of the entire regime and its system, “Velayat-e faqih” (“The guardianship of the jurist,”) a concept which indicates the “religious and social affairs” of the Muslim world should be administered by righteous Shi'i jurists.

Cartoonist Kianoush Ramazani hints at the loss of faith in the system:

This conclusion potentially offers an explanation for the regime's growing desperation as they resort to violently suppressing dissent and spreading fear. The gas attacks serve the purpose of silencing anyone who seeks accountability. Furthermore, it is worth considering that such a crisis, like the gas attacks, helps divert attention from other catastrophic issues, such as the country's economic and political crises.

The resistance of women and girls represents a significant dilemma for the Iranian regime. They find themselves trapped in a catch-22 situation; They are unable to compromise on gender apartheid since their entire narrative of existence relies on it. Meanwhile, women have entered a phase where they seem steadfast and fearless, with the support of men by their side.

Iran’s campaign of terror extends beyond the country's borders, as they are among the world’s largest sponsors of terrorism. Iran does not shy away from documenting or reporting its brutal violence; in fact, the regime wants it covered to spread fear and create a greater impact.

It is crucial for the international community to support the Iranian people in their ongoing revolution. Unless the outside world condemns Iran's crimes against humanity, these abuses will continue to take place in silence.

However, the fundamental question remains: how long can a regime oppress a population that has reached its breaking point?  and how long can such oppression endure? 

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