By Tara Orami, citizen journalist
On April 9, a wave of poisonings hit three girls’ schools in Iran’s north-western Kurdish city of Saqqez. Students’ families and other residents gathered outside one of the schools to protest the incidents, pulling down the Islamic Republic’s flag from the building and chanting slogans against the country’s clerical leaders.
As a notification was sent to local media not to report the incidents in Meraj, Taleghani and Somayeh schools, a call spread among Saqqez residents to hold a protest rally. In reaction, the authorities deployed more armed security forces in the city.
In a concerning turn of events, schools in Saqqez were targeted by poisonings for the first time in the past few months, putting residents on high alert.
Eyewitnesses reported that many poisoned students from Meraj school in Shahnaz neighborhood were transferred to hospital.
According to a witness who spoke to an IranWire citizen journalist, a "loud voice" was heard just a few minutes before the end of morning class.
"An unpleasant smell that resembled hot pepper” soon spread in the air, and a crowd of worried parents gathered at the scene.
People there reported that many students were experiencing breathing difficulties.
Despite the seriousness of the situation, the school administrators prevented parents from entering the school, but emergency rescue forces arrived promptly and opened the doors.
Some parents and other concerned individuals entered the facility to move the affected students outside as soon as possible, according to an IranWire source.
Due to the high number of sickened students and the little number of ambulances, some parents had to use their private cars to transport their children to hospital.
This has left the community shaken and concerned about the safety of their children in schools.
According to the Saqqez education department and the head of the city's health services, all students were discharged from the hospital after receiving treatment. However, some sources claim that some students are still being monitored in the hospital on April 10 as they remain in critical condition.
The gathering outside Meraj school turned into a demonstration against the government, which was dispersed by police and special forces two hours later.
The father of one of the affected students told IranWire’s citizen journalist that he found his daughter at the school in a "dizzy and nauseous" state, unable to walk.
He said he encountered a busy and chaotic scene in the hospital, which was full of students, parents and other citizens. After the initial assessment, hospital personnel said that his daughter was fine and could be discharged. However, she showed signs of weakness on the way home and had to be taken back to the hospital.
An affected student reported to her family that the pupils were in the classroom when a loud voice was heard, followed by a strong smell a few seconds later.
She and her classmates felt sick, but the school management stopped them from leaving to the schoolyard and breathe fresh air.
No official authority has yet commented on the poisoning incident. A meeting was held in the city governorate in the evening to discuss the matter, but there has been no public announcement on the outcome of the talks.
According to information obtained by IranWire, the Secretariat of the Press Supervision Board in Saqqez informed media managers that they should refrain from publishing “undocumented news” about the poisonings.
It said that publishing such news can “cause serious damage to the country” and “create new waves of concerns in society, especially if the sources are unreliable or include provincial officials” who are not authorized to talk about the issue.
Meanwhile, a statement titled "Revolutionary Students of Saqqez" urged citizens to gather in the city’s main square to “show their displeasure toward the fascist forces.”
The statement points out that several schools were attacked by “the government's forces,” resulting in the chemical poisoning of the children.
The call for protest was met with a sharp reaction from the armed forces, which prevented any gathering to be held in public places, including Jumhouri, Quds and Moalem squares.
Some students announced that they will boycott classes on April 10. Some teachers have shown support for this protest action.