Teachers protest over suspected Iran schoolgirl poisonings

Teachers protest over suspected Iran schoolgirl poisonings
This grab taken from a UGC video made available on the ESN platform on March 4, 2023, shows families gathering and chanting slogans outside an education ministry building in Tehran, following poisoning attacks on students. (RADIO FARDA/ AFP)
Short Url
Updated 07 March 2023

Teachers protest over suspected Iran schoolgirl poisonings

Teachers protest over suspected Iran schoolgirl poisonings

DUBAI: Iranian teachers held protests in several cities on Tuesday over suspected poisonings targeting hundreds of schoolgirls. Security forces broke up several of the demonstrations using water cannons and tear gas, activists said.
Meanwhile, prosecutors started filing criminal charges against journalists, activists and others over their comments on the still-unsolved incidents that began in November and escalated in recent days, with dozens of schools reporting suspected cases.
The alleged poisonings come as Iran has faced months of protests over the September death of Mahsa Amini after her arrest by the country’s morality police, one of the most-serious challenges to Iran’s theocracy since its 1979 Islamic Revolution. These new incidents threaten to again stoke public anger as parents fear for their children’s safety. It remains unclear who may be behind the suspected attacks and what chemicals — if any — have been used.
At least 127 schools have reported suspected poisoning cases so far, according to figures compiled by the Tehran-based reformist newspaper Etemad, with dozens reported on one recent day alone. Nearly every school reporting an incident has been a girls’ school.
Activists and Iranian media reports previously have said that over 1,000 students complained of falling ill with at least 400 of them hospitalized. Iranian authorities have offered no exact figures since the crisis began.
However, Mohammed Hassan Asefari, a prominent Iranian lawmaker who is on a panel investigating the incidents and has close ties to security forces, told the semiofficial ISNA news agency that as many as 5,000 students have complained of being sickened in 230 schools across 25 of Iran’s 31 provinces. No other official or media report has offered figures that high so far.
On Tuesday, online videos and photos purportedly showed teachers demonstrating in a number of Iranian cities, including Ahvaz, Isfahan, Karaj, Mashhad, Rasht, Sanandaj, Saqqez and Shiraz.
Others showed anti-riot police on streets, with some police officers surrounding those demonstrating in Isfahan. Activists identifying themselves as belonging to Iran’s Coordinating Council of Teachers Syndicates said police used pepper spray, water cannons and force to disperse protesters in Mashhad, Rasht and Saqqez.
Iranian state media made no mention of Tuesday’s demonstrations or of security forces dispersing demonstrators. Teachers have been targeted by security forces and faced arrests for months over protesting in support of their long-standing demands for salary increases amid the collapse of Iran’s currency, the rial.
Protesters and others have raised the possibility that religious extremists may be targeting schoolgirls to stop them from receiving educations. Attacks on women have happened in the past in Iran, most recently with a wave of acid attacks in 2014 around Isfahan, at the time believed to have been carried out by hard-liners targeting women for how they dressed. But even in the chaos surrounding the Islamic Revolution, no one targeted schoolgirls for attending classes.
Iran itself also has been calling on the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan to have girls and women return to school.
Determining what’s going on in Iran has been difficult. Authorities have detained nearly 100 journalists since the start of the protests in September over the death of the 22-year-old Amini, detained allegedly because of how she was dressed. The targeting of journalists has escalated in recent days amid their reports on the suspected poisonings.
Tehran chief prosecutor Ali Salehi said authorities began filing charges against journalists, including editors at the reformist newspapers Hammihan and Shargh, which have led reporting on the suspected poisonings. A news site, activists and others also face charges over allegedly spreading “unreal claims and totally false” statements about the attacks, Salehi said, according to the Iranian judiciary’s Mizan news agency.
Salehi sought to justify the cases by saying those charged jeopardized the “psychological security” of Iran’s citizens.
Iran’s government, while initially ignoring reports of alleged poisonings back in November, has faced increasing pressure from the public to respond. On Monday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said any culprits connected to the alleged poisonings should be sentenced to death for committing an “unforgivable crime.”
Deputy Interior Minister Majid Mirahmadi told Iranian state television Tuesday that authorities have arrested an unspecified number of suspects over the poisoning incidents. However, officials have made claims about arrests previously that were later denied.
As Iran struggles to respond, international pressure is growing on Tehran to investigate. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Monday called for a “credible, independent investigation” into the incidents by the United Nations.
“If these poisonings are related to participation in protests, then it is well within (the) mandate of the UN independent international fact-finding mission on Iran to investigate,” she said. Iran hasn’t acknowledged asking for outside help and has described some of the recent incidents as episodes of “hysteria.”
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 WHO said it appeared to be a “mass psychogenic illness.”

Egypt, Israel pledge cooperation after border bloodshed

Updated 10 sec ago

Egypt, Israel pledge cooperation after border bloodshed

Egypt, Israel pledge cooperation after border bloodshed
CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to boost cooperation Tuesday after an Egyptian policeman shot dead three Israeli soldiers before being killed, officials said.
El-Sisi received a telephone call from Netanyahu about Saturday’s deadly violence on the normally calm border, the spokesman for the Egyptian president said.
During the conversation, the two leaders stressed “the importance of coordination between the two countries to clarify the circumstances,” he said.
Egypt has said the policeman crossed into Israel while chasing drug smugglers, leading to exchanges of fire with Israeli soldiers.
On Saturday, Netanyahu called the Egyptian shooter a “terrorist” although he has since mostly spoken of the shootings as an “incident.”
El-Sisi offered Netanyahu his “deep condolences,” the Israeli prime minister’s office said.
“The two leaders expressed their commitment to further strengthening peace and security cooperation, which is an essential value for both countries,” it added.
Israel’s border with Egypt has been largely quiet since Egypt became the first Arab country to make peace with Israel following the Camp David accords of 1978.
In recent years, there have been exchanges of fire between smugglers and Israeli soldiers stationed along the border.
Questions have been raised about why the Egyptian assailant — reported by Egyptian media to have been a 22-year-old conscript — crossed into Israel and opened fire.
Speaking at the opening of a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu said his government had sent a “clear message” to Egypt: “We expect that the joint investigation will be exhaustive and thorough.”
On Tuesday, his office said he had “thanked the Egyptian president for... his commitment to an exhaustive and joint investigation of the incident.”

Iran debates new penalties for veil violations

Iran debates new penalties for veil violations
Updated 06 June 2023

Iran debates new penalties for veil violations

Iran debates new penalties for veil violations
  • Women have been required to cover their hair after the Islamic revolution of 1979
  • But a growing number are defying the law and appearing bareheaded in the streets

TEHRAN: An Iranian draft law that would set new penalties for women not wearing a headscarf in public has sparked heated debate within the Islamic republic’s leadership as more women flout the country’s strict dress code.
Since the aftermath of the Islamic revolution of 1979, women have been required to cover their hair and neck in public places, with offenders facing fines or prison terms of up to two months.
But a growing number are defying the law and appearing bareheaded in the streets.
The trend accelerated during the nationwide protests sparked by the September death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman arrested for allegedly violating the law.
The protests rocked Iran, provoking a crackdown by authorities that claimed the lives of hundreds of people, including dozens of security personnel, and saw thousands more arrested.
Iran’s conservatives, who dominate the country’s parliament and leadership, have passionately defended the dress code and believe relaxing rules would begin a process leading to profound shifts in “social norms.”
But with many Iranians demanding change, in May the judiciary and the government proposed a “Support for the Culture of Hijab and Chastity” bill, to “protect society” and “strengthen family life.”
The text proposes increased fines for “any person removing their veil in public places or on the Internet” but withdraws the threat of a prison sentence.
“This bill reduces the removal of the hijab from a felony to a misdemeanour, similar to a traffic violation but with heavier fines,” sociologist Abbas Abdi said.
After Amini’s death and the subsequent protests, society “no longer accepts that we imprison a woman because she does not wear the veil,” he said.
Since the protests, authorities have imposed a series of measures to enforce Iran’s strict dress code, including the closure of businesses whose staff do not conform with the rules and installing cameras in public places to track down offenders.
In recent days, at least three officials have been sacked or arrested for failing to prevent unveiled women from entering historic sites.
Under the proposed law, the text of which has been published in government-affiliated media, offenders will first receive a warning text message from the police.
A second breach will incur fines of between five million and 60 million rials (around $10 to $120), a large sum for many Iranians. The law would also provide for other penalities, including the confiscation of a woman’s vehicle for up to 10 days.
Defending the bill, judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei stressed the need to avoid polarizing society, saying he understood the “concerns of believers” supportive of the dress code.
As the bill awaits examination by lawmakers, it faces accusations of not being tough enough from ultra-conservatives, an influential bloc in the current parliament.
Relaxing punishments for violations will see “the expansion of a repugnant phenomenon” by “removing legal barriers” for women not wearing a veil, the ultra-conservative newspaper Kayhan said.
Those supporting the law “do not know that the enemy” seeks to “destroy the family as an institution and ultimately, to attack the foundations of the Islamic system” by removing headscarves, the newspaper said.
Social networks and foreign media, particularly television channels broadcasting in Persian, are calling for “social disobedience,” according to some ultra-conservatives.
Within Iran’s leadership “there is no consensus on the hijab,” as some favor repression, while others “believe that other means must be tried,” the sociologist Abdi said.
“The bill satisfies neither the supporters of compulsory hijab nor, of course, the supporters of the freedom to cover up or not.”
A similar situation developed in the 1990s with a law prohibiting the use of satellite dishes, he said.
“It was only implemented for a while before it was dropped.”

Kuwaitis turn out to cast vote in parliamentary elections

Kuwaitis turn out to cast vote in parliamentary elections
Updated 06 June 2023

Kuwaitis turn out to cast vote in parliamentary elections

Kuwaitis turn out to cast vote in parliamentary elections

Polling stations opened across Kuwait on Tuesday where the country is electing its third parliament in three years. 

There was a “great turnout” by senior citzens who were casting their vote for the 2023 National Assembly, state news agency KUNA reported. 

Kuna went on to report that Kuwaitis were hoping the election would bring political stability with cooperation between the legislative and executive authorities. 

The general election was called by the Kuwaiti Emir, Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah last month.

Iran unveils Fattah, its first hypersonic ballistic missile

Iran unveils Fattah, its first hypersonic ballistic missile
Updated 06 June 2023

Iran unveils Fattah, its first hypersonic ballistic missile

Iran unveils Fattah, its first hypersonic ballistic missile
  • Hypersonic missiles can fly at least five times faster than the speed of sound and on a complex trajectory

DUBAI: Iran claimed on Tuesday that it had created a hypersonic missile capable of traveling at 15 times the speed of sound, adding a new weapon to its arsenal as tensions remain high with the United States over Tehran’s nuclear program.

The new missile — called Fattah, or “Conqueror” in Farsi — was unveiled in a tightly choreographed segment on Iranian state television, which apparently sought to show that Tehran’s hard-line government can still deploy arms against its enemies across much of the Middle East.

“Today we feel that the deterrent power has been formed,” Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said at the event. “This power is an anchor of lasting security and peace for the regional countries.”

Gen. Amir Ali Hajjizadeh, the head of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace program, unveiled what appeared to be a model of the missile. Hajjizadeh claimed the missile had a range of up to 1,400 kilometers.

That’s about mid-range for Iran’s expansive ballistic missile arsenal, which the Guard has built up over the years as Western sanctions largely prevent it from accessing advanced weaponry.

“There exists no system that can rival or counter this missile,” Hajjizadeh claimed.

That claim, however, depends on how maneuverable the missile is. Ballistic missiles fly on a trajectory in which anti-missile systems like the Patriot can anticipate their path and intercept them. Tuesday’s event showed what appeared to be a moveable nozzle for the Fattah, which could allow it to change trajectories in flight. The more irregular the missile’s flight path, the more difficult it becomes to intercept.

Iranian officials also did not release any footage of a successful launch of the Fattah.

Hypersonic weapons, which fly at speeds in excess of Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, could pose crucial challenges to missile defense systems because of their speed and maneuverability. Iran described the Fattah as being able to reach Mach 15 — which is 15 times the speed of sound.

China is believed to be pursuing the weapons, as is America. Russia claims to already be fielding the weapons and has said it used them on the battlefield in Ukraine. However, speed and maneuverability isn’t a guarantee the missile will successfully strike a target. Ukraine’s air force in May said it shot down a Russian hypersonic Kinzhal missile with a Patriot battery.

New report offers sustainability advice for Arab governments

New report offers sustainability advice for Arab governments
Updated 06 June 2023

New report offers sustainability advice for Arab governments

New report offers sustainability advice for Arab governments
  • ‘Sustainability and Government Action: Arab Government Situation’ was compiled by the Arab League’s Arab Administrative Development Organization and the UAE
  • It includes numerous recommendations, including the need to develop smart cities, encourage green financing, and capitalize on the resources of the private sector

DUBAI: A new report on sustainability, based on interviews with 1,800 Arab government officials, offers numerous recommendations to authorities in the region, including the need to develop smart cities, encourage green financing, fully capitalize on the resources of the private sector, and raise awareness of issues associated with sustainability.

Titled “Sustainability and Government Action: Arab Government Situation,” the report was compiled by the Arab League’s Arab Administrative Development Organization and the UAE, which holds the presidency of the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference, COP28. It was unveiled during the “Forum of Sustainability and Government Action” in Cairo, the Emirates News Agency reported on Monday.

Sultan Al-Jaber, the president-designate of COP28, told the forum that governments have a critical role to play in mitigating the effects of climate change by developing effective strategies than can help meet global climate goals in partnership with regional and international organizations.

“The report supports our focus during COP28 on enhancing the efforts to achieve a significant shift in climate action,” Al-Jaber said. The UAE will host COP28 in Dubai from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12.

Ohood Al-Roumi, the Emirati minister of state for government development and the future, delivered a keynote speech to the forum in Cairo during which she emphasized the importance of developing policies and laws that help promote a sustainable green transformation, and the public-private partnerships needed to help achieve climate neutrality.

She said the newly published report will help Arab governments in their efforts to improve sustainability and combat climate change, along with related social and economic issues. The minister also emphasized the potential avenues for boosting long-term economic growth highlighted by the report, such as the development of proactive climate policies and initiatives, and the need for resilience in adapting to green regulations.

Al-Roumi said the report reflects the Emirati government’s climate action efforts and its commitment to long-term solutions to environmental concerns, in keeping with the UAE’s Year of Sustainability and its preparations for hosting COP28.

Nasser Al-Hatlan Al-Qahtani, the director-general of the Arab Administrative Development Organization, said the publication of the report also provides an opportunity to assess how ready Arab governments are to address climate change challenges and capitalize on opportunities in the green economy.