It is not clear what chemical may have been used. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks and authorities have not identified any suspects. Unlike neighboring Afghanistan, Iran has no history of religious extremists targeting girls’ education.
UNESCO “urges thorough investigations and immediate action to protect schools and return affected students,” the agency tweeted.
“I am very concerned about the alleged poisoning of schoolgirls in Iran over the past three months. This is a violation of their right to a safe education,” said UNESCO President Audrey Azoulay.
Iranian authorities are investigating the incidents, and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called for those responsible to be severely punished.
But authorities have tightened restrictions on independent media, arresting journalists, activists and others over alleged poisoning. This has made it difficult to ascertain the scope and nature of the crisis.
Iran already imposes strict restrictions on the media Waves of protests against the government Recent months have been prompted by the September death of a young woman who was detained by the morality police. Iran’s clerical rulers force women to dress conservatively and cover their hair in public, but have never opposed the education of girls and women.
Some Iranian officials have suggested, without evidence, that the protests and allegations of poisoning are part of a foreign conspiracy to foment the unrest. Videos circulating online showed teachers protesting the suspected poisoning in several cities on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Interior Ministry announced the arrest of people suspected of poisoning in six provinces. But its report focused on one man accused of making a video sent to “hostile media” and said three others were active in the recent protests.
Iran has described some of the alleged poisonings as episodes of “mania”.
The World Health Organization documented a similar phenomenon in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2012, when hundreds of girls across the country complained of strange smells and poisoning. No evidence was found to support the suspicions, and the WHO said it was a “major mental illness”.