By Syed Zafar Mehdi
Earlier this week, a social media rumor about the “death” of an 11-year-old girl in the central Iranian city of Qom due to “poisoning” circulated at a dizzying pace and grabbed headlines worldwide.
A report in France 24, reproduced by many other Western media outlets, cited anonymous “Iranian activists” to allege that Fatemeh Rezaei “died after being poisoned at school”.
New York-based so-called Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) claimed that the girl died after hundreds of students were subjected to “deliberate poisoning”, calling it an “act of terrorism”.
An Italian news portal, Agensir, quoted a representative of the Iranian Youth Association in Italy as saying that Rezaei lost her life as a result of the “barbaric regime poisonings”.
A website affiliated with the MKO terror cult described the Qom girl as the first victim of “biological terror attacks on high school girls” to “avenge their active participation in the Iran uprising”.
This is while the father of the victim, Abolqasem Rezaei told local media that his daughter’s untimely death had no connection with serial poisonings that have sent shockwaves across the country.
“My daughter's pain and infection started a week before her death. Even before pain, she didn’t go to school for about three weeks,” said the father, debunking the toxic misinformation.
On Saturday, another rumor was disseminated through social media platforms about the “death” of a schoolgirl in Pakdasht city, 25 kilometers southeast of Tehran.
One Twitter user, a “journalist and social reporter”, claimed that a female student was “killed” with a “poisonous substance” in Pakdasht, likening classrooms to “gas chambers”.
An anonymous page by the name of ‘LiveIranNews’ said students at a Pakdasht school were “chemically terrorized” and a female student was “killed in the tragedy”.
This too turned out to be a hoax. A report on Saturday evening, quoting local officials, said 60 schoolgirls had been hospitalized in Pakdasht due to “mild poisoning” and no one had died.
According to reports received from the ground, there has been no fatality from serial poisonings so far, and its cause remains shrouded in mystery, being investigated by relevant organizations.
But it has already provided fodder for anti-Iran propaganda mills in the West to foment chaos in the country, in continuation of their multi-pronged hybrid war against the Islamic Republic.
The mysterious wave of illness, which started first in Qom in November last year, has in recent weeks alarmingly spread to other cities, including the capital Tehran.
President Ebrahim Raeisi last week ordered a thorough investigation into the issue and instructed Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi to lead the probe with assistance from other ministries.
Several theories have been floated about the cause of the mysterious illness, which has seen hundreds of schoolgirls in different Iranian cities being hospitalized, albeit with mild symptoms.
Iranian authorities, however, maintain there is something deeply sinister in this frenzy.
Speaking at a public rally in southern Iran’s Bushehr city on Friday, President Raeisi described the serial poisonings as “part of the hybrid war” against Iran designed to “create unrest and problems”.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian also took to Twitter to denounce Western countries for “shedding crocodile tears” over serial poisonings in the Islamic Republic.
“The interventionist reaction of some Western authorities to the issue of suspected poisoning of dear Iranian female students is the continuation of the enemy's hybrid war,” he tweeted, adding that the matter is being “followed up seriously” by relevant institutions.
Their remarks came after the United States and Germany, yet again, made “interventionist” remarks regarding Iran’s internal matters, much to the chagrin of Tehran.
"It's deeply concerning news coming out of Iran. These – what, what could be the poisoning of young girls that are just going to school," White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, commenting in a Twitter post, said "girls must be able to go to school without fear” and “all cases must be fully investigated”.
In response, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani in a series of tweets slammed the top German diplomat’s remarks as “hypocritical and meddlesome”, reminding her of Germany’s role in chemical attacks on the people of Iran during Saddam Hussein’s war on Iran in the 1980s.
Kanaani had on November 28, on the eve of the day for remembrance of the victims of chemical warfare, appeared for his weekly presser with a haunting chemical mask on the desk.
It was a symbolic protest against Germany's supply of chemical weapons to former Iraqi military dictator Saddam Hussein during his 8-year war against Iran in the 1980s, immediately after the Islamic Revolution put an end to years of Western meddling in the country.
“One of the bitter facts that still needs clarification is the chemical poisonings through German-made toxic gases during the Saddam-imposed war [on Iran] which still takes lives,” Kanaani tweeted on Friday.
He hastened to add that the Iranian government is “very serious” about “identifying criminals and uprooting the evil,” and will not allow others to “foment insecurity” with “political motivations.”
Pertinently, the US and Germany in recent months led the no-holds-barred crusade against the Islamic Republic, which eventually fizzled out. The poisonings appear to be a new chapter now.
In a statement late on Saturday, Interior Minister said “suspicious samples” were discovered during the investigation and are being examined in the country’s premier laboratories.
Since the outbreak of these poisonings, Vahidi asserted, the perpetrators of the hybrid war against Iran have sought to fuel “mental-psychological pollution” in society and force the closure of schools.
“We assure our dear people that the health of students was and remains the top priority for (government) officials and they will spare no effort to create peace and comfort for them,” he said.
Syed Zafar Mehdi is a Tehran-based journalist, political commentator and author. He has reported for more than 13 years from India, Afghanistan, Kashmir and West Asia for leading publications worldwide.
(The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Press TV.)