On Thursday, the evening before multiple Iranian universities were set to participate in more mass protests against the country’s oppressive regime, approximately 1,200 students were struck with severe food poisoning. According to a Telegram post by Iran’s national student union, victims of the “chain poisoning” suffered from “body pain, diarrhea, and vomiting,” causing hallucinations for some and hospitalization for many. A majority of those affected were students of Kharazmi University and Arak University of Technology, with similar reports coming out of at least four other universities, the New York Post reports.
Officials from the Iranian science ministry quickly linked the food poisoning to water-born bacteria, but the student union believes the poisonings were an intentional attempt to derail their participation in the protests. “Our past experiences of similar incidents at the Isfahan University negates the authorities’ reason for this mass food poisoning,” the union wrote on Telegram.
The union also stated that university clinics were ill-equipped to handle the illnesses, furthering their suspicions. Some clinics claimed to be running low on their supply of electrolytes (to treat dehydration), while others were shut down completely. Following the regime’s confirmation, students began boycotting their canteens and dumping trays of food into the streets outside their buildings. Students at Isfahan University have since organized protests against their institution, demanding that university officials step down, Iran International reports.
It’s unclear whether the student protests were a continuation of the mass protests that have swept the country since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September or were planned for something more specific. Amini died while in the custody of the country’s morality police, who arrested her for wearing her hijab “improperly.” The incident has since sparked the country’s largest ongoing civil demonstrations since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, with hundreds dead and thousands reported missing or imprisoned.
Over the weekend, the New York Times published a story that suggested Iranian officials had abolished the morality police, a move that the publication called “a significant victory for feminists.” However, the confusing comments to which they were referring were made by Iranian Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri during a news conference. “The morality police has nothing to do with the judiciary, and it was abolished by those who created it,” Montazeri said during a speech in which he blamed Iran’s protests on western countries, according to Iranian Students’ New Agency, a state-backed publication. “But of course the judiciary will continue to watch over behavioral actions in the society.” Nothing has been officially confirmed or denied.
The news outlet has since been criticized by activists for spreading propaganda and assisting in the regime’s oppression. In an interview with ABC News, Iranian American journalist Masih Alinejad said: “It was a total lie and disinformation. It was a propaganda move by the Islamic Republic. When dictators are shaken, they know how to use disinformation to mislead the rest of the world or to calm down the protesters within the society.”
Monday marked the beginning of a three-day national strike to protest the false abolition claims and to advocate for government reform, with shops in major cities (including Tehran, Karaj, Isfahan, Mashhad, Tabriz and Shiraz) shutting down to show their support. Meanwhile, the morality police continue to terrorize: An amusement park was allegedly forced to shut down after a photo of a female employee without a hijab began circulating online. Tehran’s prosecutor has reportedly opened a case against the young woman.