Iran's supreme leader yesterday said that the poisoning of schoolgirls is an "unforgivable" crime that should be punished by death if deliberate, amid public anger over a wave of suspected attacks in schools, Reuters reported citing state TV.
Over 1,000 girls have fallen ill after being poisoned since November, according to state media and officials, with some politicians blaming religious groups opposed to girls' education.
The poisonings have come at a critical time for Iran's clerical rulers after months of protests since the death of a young woman in police custody in September.
"Authorities should seriously pursue the issue of students' poisoning," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as saying by state TV. "If it is proven deliberate, those perpetrators of this unforgivable crime should be sentenced to capital punishment."
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The head of the Iranian judiciary, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, said the perpetrators will be convicted of spreading "corruption on earth", the most severe charge for which the perpetrators are punished by death.
Last Friday, Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi called on the interior and intelligence ministries to "thwart the enemy's plot aimed at spreading fear and despair among the population".
On Sunday Iranian authorities arrested journalist Ali Pour-Tabatabaie, who had been following the news of gas attacks on girls' schools in the city of Qom for the past few weeks.
The city witnessed the first cases of poisoning in the country at the end of November.
READ: Iran: female students 'poisoned' by gas