By Natasha Phillips
Students studying psychology at six universities in Iran said the country’s government had turned psychiatric hospitals into “torture centers for young political prisoners,” in a statement published on April 29 to coincide with world psychiatrist’s day.
The statement, reported by the Persian-language editions of Radio Farda and Iran Wire on May 1, followed the detention of at least 723 students since the start of the nationwide protests in September. The demonstrations were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian Jina Mahsa Amini, who died of injuries sustained while in police custody.
Iran’s Education Minister Yousef Nouri confirmed in October that detained students had been taken to “psychological centers,” to be “reformed.”
Condemning the government’s actions, the students accused officials of “exploiting psychological sciences for repression and tyranny,” and of concealing the government-sanctioned killing of children at demonstrations, by attributing the deaths of children, teenagers and young people to suicide.
More than 400 students were suspended or expelled for taking part in the protests, according to an April 13 report by the Union Council of Iranian Students. An estimated 71 children were killed by security forces during the protests in Iran.
Teachers angered by reports of students being poisoned in Iran’s schools have also staged protests across several provinces.
An estimated 297 schools and educational centers in at least 103 Iranian cities have allegedly been exposed to poisonous chemicals in the past five months. More than 6,208 students have been affected by unexplained illnesses, according to US-based Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA).
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“Several samples of students’ clothing, hair, and belongings have been collected over the course of four weeks by an independent group and sent for testing,” a teacher at an all-girls school in Esfahan who asked to remain anonymous told Kayhan Life. “We are all waiting to know what these gases are and what effect they have on the students’ health and bodies.”
Describing an incident at her school on April 11, the teacher said: “When we noticed a bad smell in the school, we called the hospital. They sent three ambulances. One of the ambulance employees said to one of the children who was unable to breathe and had taken off her clothes, ‘You were not unwell, you just wanted to take off your clothes.’ Their ambulances did not even have oxygen masks.”
“The police forces also fought with the children who were filming, and even arrested one of the mothers who had taken her daughter to the hospital. After this incident, the students did not come back to school for a week,” the teacher said.
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A request was made for video footage from the school’s cameras to be checked for any evidence of the perpetrators, at a meeting with the principal of the school and the children’s parents, one day after the incident. The staff and parents were still waiting for an answer, the teacher said.
It is unclear who is behind the suspected attacks, but human rights groups believe the disruption could be an attempt by hardline officials to punish girls for taking part in the country’s anti-government protests.
Despite the risk of being targeted for protesting, students have continued to criticize the government.
Rallies were held at universities throughout April against the Islamic Republic’s mandatory hijab laws. Students held meetings, sit-ins and put on theatrical performances in defiance of the government’s latest drive to enforce the gender-based dress code.
Several hundred Iranian students have been summoned over breaches of the dress code in recent months, according to a Telegram channel for students at Tehran’s Al-Zahra University.
Messages on the Telegram channel ‘Voice of Al-Zahra Students’ said that at least 35 students were suspended from studying for one to two semesters for violations related to the mandatory hijab since March, according to a report by news outlet Radio Farda. The report added that seven of the suspended students were penalized, while five students were expelled with immediate effect, from their dormitories.