The poisoning of schoolgirls in central Iran's Qom city, which has snowballed into a grave public health issue in recent months, got a new twist Sunday with an official saying it was aimed at "shutting girls education."
Deputy Health Minister Younes Panahi, addressing a news conference in the northeastern city of Mashhad, said "some people" were poisoning schoolgirls in Qom to disrupt their education, according to state media.
Hundreds of schoolgirls have been hospitalized in Qom, a popular pilgrim site in central Iran, in recent months in what has been described as a wave of a mysterious illness.
Although parents had suspected "poisoning" as the cause for the sudden hospitalizations, authorities found no evidence.
Last week, there were protests in front of the provincial governor's office in Qom, local media reported, with parents seeking an "explanation" from authorities.
In the latest incident reported by the media last week, at least 15 schoolgirls were admitted to a hospital in Qom after complaining of respiratory problems.
The first incident was reported in November when at least 18 schoolgirls were taken to a hospital after complaining of symptoms such as nausea, breathing problems and cough and body pain.
Last week, Prosecutor Heneral Mohammad Jafar Montazeri ordered a judicial probe into the mysterious illness. Results are pending.
"After the poisoning of several students in Qom schools, it became clear that some people wanted all schools, especially girls' schools, to be closed," Panahi was quoted by state agency, IRNA.
A member of the investigating committee, he added that the poisoning was caused by "chemical compounds" that are not contagious or communicable.
He ruled out "external causes,” saying there is no credible evidence to suggest that happened.
It comes after months of protests in the country that were marred by violence. The unrest was sparked by the death of a 22-year-old Iranian woman while in police custody in September.