Iranian authorities have announced an investigation into a series of suspected poison gas attacks on girls’ schools.
Hundreds of cases of poisonings have been reported among schoolgirls since November 2022. Dozens have been hospitalized. Thirty schools have been targeted across four cities, according to local media reports.
ABC News’ Linsey Davis spoke with Iranian-American activist Masih Alinejad, who recently was named one of Time magazine’s Women of the Year, about the suspected poisonings, along with what’s to come in what she calls the “next phase” of the progressive revolution against the Iranian regime.
LINSEY DAVIS: Masih, thank you so much for coming back on again. So you just talked to a father who told you that his daughter was just poisoned. Just explain to us what they're going through.
MASIH ALINEJAD: First of all, I have to say that this is a terror attack on schoolgirls. It's a revenge by the Islamic Republic against the brave girls. If you remember the one that was leading the revolution against the Islamic Republic, removing their hijab. So, yes, I spoke with a father who is also a doctor, and he was telling me that he warned his daughter to go to school with mask, because this series of poisoning attack is happening for a while, started from the city of Qom, then Borujerd and now Tehran. It has more than 800 students being hospitalized, and they are really scared. The girl told her father that half of the school were actually sent to hospital, not only 35. This is the statistic that actually the government is trying to sell to the media.
DAVIS: And we know that even the Iranian government has been urging the Taliban in Afghanistan to allow girls and women to go to school and be educated. Why are we seeing this affront for girls who just want to be able to get their education?
ALINEJAD: Look, the Islamic Republic is exactly acting like Taliban. That actually, if you remember, the chemical attack happened in Boko Haram in Afghanistan by Taliban and now by the Islamic Republic. So they are all following same ideology. They are against schoolgirls. They are against women. They hate women. So they actually try to create fear among schoolgirls to stop them from protesting. So that is why it's ironic that the Islamic Republic trying to tell the rest of the world that we are against Taliban because the girls are not allowed to go to school. The Islamic Republic cannot admit it publicly that they are against the schoolgirls. But they are using terror tactic to create fear among schoolgirls.
DAVIS: Really, what you're talking about is government officials who are using their own religious interpretations and applying that for the masses, right? And that's something that we're even seeing play out in this country when it comes to abortions, for example. I'm just curious, from your perspective as an activist, as a journalist, what this means. We're talking about these broad implications for people who are just using their specific mindset on their religious beliefs.
ALINEJAD: You know what? Here in America, when women took to the streets for Women's March or talking about abortion, none of the women got killed. Five hundred innocent protesters got killed by the Islamic Republic just because of protesting against the brutal death of Mahsa Amini and saying that we want to make decisions over our own body. So that is why I believe that women in America, women in the West, now they can echo the voice of Iranian women, the voice of women in Afghanistan who are being kicked out from schools and now getting kicked out from school because of the chemical attack. So that's another thing that the Islamic Republic now is saying that the minister of education, that we're going to have an investigation in this case. We need an outside organization. We need the U.N. accountability mechanism to be on board. We need the Doctors Without Borders to be on board and do an open investigation about this tragedy in Iran.
DAVIS: Earlier this month, you met with Iranian opposition leaders talking about the pro-democracy movement. Can you give us any kind of an update?
ALINEJAD: Yes. This is the next phase of the revolution, the unique time in the history that we see a sense of unity among oppositions inside and outside. And recently, we unveiled a coalition at Georgetown University on part of this Democratic coalition. We're trying actually to have a political frontline to meet with the leaders of democratic countries and convince them that this is the time that you have to recognize this progressive revolution. We're coming with a charter based on human rights and ask the leaders of democratic countries to isolate the Islamic Republic and be ready to see an Iran without Islamic Republic.
DAVIS: Masih, always a pleasure to have you here. We appreciate your activism, your enthusiasm, just your energy and your aura. Thank you.
ALINEJAD: Thank you. I'm going to invite you to my beautiful country when Iran is free.
DAVIS: Thank you for that. We'll accept that invitation.