Riot police in central Iran Saturday tried to disperse a large crowd of people with tear gas and shotguns who were protesting ongoing gas attacks on schoolgirls.
Parents and students who gathered spontaneously outside the education department of Shahin-Shahr, near Esfahan Saturday morning soon began chanting anti-government slogans. “We don’t want a child-killing government,” they chanted.
According to Hosseinali Haji-Deligani, representative of the district in the parliament, twelve schools were attacked in the city of around 175,000 on April 11.
Videos posted on social media also show people chanting “Down with the Dictator” and “Down with those responsible for the poisonings” and a member of the security forces threatening them over a loudspeaker.
Some of the women protesting in Shahin-Shahr, as videos show, attended the rally unveiled in defiance of the government’s new attempts to re-establish strict hijab rules.
Dozens of schools have been targeted by unidentified people using chemicals in various cities across the country including Esfahan, Tabriz, Shahin-Shahr, Genaveh, Kermanshah, Oshnavieh, Kamyaran, Ardabil, Sanandaj, Orumieh, Karaj, and Pardis to the south of the capital since the reopening of schools and dozens of girls have been hospitalized.
Attacks against girls’ schools started in November and subsided before the Iranian new year in March, but they have resumed in full force.
Many believe that the attacks are a coordinated effort by state-protected religious vigilante groups or the state itself to frighten students and their parents so that they will keep away from anti-government protests or even education for girls.
Women and girls having been at the forefront of anti-government protests that began in mid-September following the death of the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of ‘morality police’. They have burned their headscarves and cut their hair in defiance of the regime, and many are vowing they will never wear the compulsory hijab again.
On Saturday several new attacks were reported in Izeh in the southwestern Khuzestan Province, Sanandaj, the capital of Kordestan Province and other cities. A call to protest outside the education department of Izeh on April 16 and 17 has been circulating on social media. The city of around 100,000 was the scene of some bloody protests in November and December.
Demonstrations were also held in the Kurdish majority city of Saqqez on April 9 after half a dozen schools were attacked. Protesters who chanted anti-government slogans and lit bonfires on the streets were similarly attacked by security forces and several protesters were arrested.
The principal of one of girl’s schools attacked in Saqqez last week resigned in protest to the authorities’ failure to find the perpetrators of the attacks. Parshang Ranjbari said her resignation should be considered as “civil protest”.
The scale of the intentional poisoning of female primary and secondary school students -- which started in the religious city of Qom - and reached schools in large and small towns and villages across the country has almost become a daily occurrence but deeply concerned parents are still waiting to see the authorities find the perpetrators.
Officials and the state media have continuously tried to downplay the seriousness of the incidents and the press were warned by the Islamic guidance ministry this week not to give coverage to news of the poisonings and even ignore “unreliable sources including some authorities in the province who may not be informed” to avoid “serious damage to the country.”
Meanwhile, on Saturday the police officially commenced using public CCTV images and image recognition software to identify and prosecute women who defy the strict Islamic dress code and hijab rules in a bid to end the ever-increasing appearance of “hijabless” women in public.
Many express outrage that surveillance cameras can be used to track women for not wearing hijab, while the government has failed to identify vigilantes attacking schools.