More than a thousand Iranian university students appear to have been poisoned the night before they were due to attend mass anti-regime protests being held across the country this week.
According to ISNA, an Iranian news agency, 1,200 students at Kharazmi and Ark universities were taken ill with vomiting, severe body aches and hallucinations. Similar illnesses were also reported at at least four other universities.
The Iranian science ministry confirmed that the students were struck by food poisoning, which has led to students protesting by dumping their food onto pavements. Video footage posted online over the weekend showed row upon row of plastic bags containing canteen food placed on the ground outside Ark university.
The Iranian regime has been accused of deliberately poisoning students to thwart their latest protest, while Iranian authorities have blamed accidental food poisoning linked to an outbreak of water-borne bacteria in the country.
“Our past experiences of similar incidents at the Isfahan university negates the authorities’ reason for this mass food poisoning,” a statement from Iran’s national student union said.
The student union has also claimed the universities’ clinics have closed or suddenly run out of electrolytes which has made it harder to treat dehydration - a common symptom of food poisoning. Meanwhile, female students have been told to remain inside their dormitories at some universities.
Iranians have also called for an intensified three-day period of national strikes and protests which is due to begin on Wednesday.
It came as an Iranian state broadcaster denied reports that the regime had scrapped its morality police, the religious enforcers whose killing of 22-year-old student Mahsa Amini triggered the mass protest movement.
“No official in the Islamic Republic of Iran has confirmed the closure of the morality police,” claimed a report by the Al-Alam broadcaster on Sunday night. “Some foreign media have tried to characterise the attorney general’s statement as the Islamic Republic’s withdrawal from its hijab [laws] and influenced by the recent riots.”
Earlier on Sunday, an Iranian public prosecutor had said that the unit had been “shut down” and had “nothing to do with” the country’s judiciary in a response to a question about rumours that it had been scrapped. It remained unclear whether the unit had been closed down as of Monday afternoon.
If confirmed, the move to end the rule of morality police officers in Iran’s streets would be a major concession to the protesters, who have clashed in their thousands with regime security forces across dozens of towns and cities, leaving more than 300 people dead.
However, the protests have quickly evolved into a mass uprising that now appears to be focused on the total collapse of the regime, rather than moderate changes to the Iranian legal system.
Football star's shops closed
It also emerged on Monday, that Iran has sealed a jewellery shop and restaurant belonging to the famous footballer Ali Daei, after he backed protesters’ calls for strikes this week.
Daei’s 109 goals at international level were long unsurpassed until Cristiano Ronaldo overtook him. ISNA news agency, citing the judiciary’s media centre, reported that the ex-player’s shop and restaurant in Tehran’s fashionable north end had been ordered shut.
“Following the cooperation with anti-revolutionary groups in cyberspace to disrupt peace and business of the market, a judicial order was issued to seal Noor Jewellery Gallery,” ISNA reported.
It said a restaurant linked to Daei had also been ordered shut but gave no details about it.
Last week, Daei said he had been targeted by threats after backing the protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini.
Three-day nationwide strike
Meanwhile, Iranian shops shut their doors in several cities on Monday, following calls for a three-day nationwide strike from protesters seeking the fall of clerical rulers, while the head of the judiciary blamed what he called “rioters” for threatening shopkeepers.
Videos shared by 1500tasvir, an activist group focused on the protests, shared videos on social media of closed shops in commercial areas including Tehran's Bazaar, and other large cities such as Karaj, Isfahan, Mashhad, Tabriz, and Shiraz.
Kurdish Iranian rights group Hengaw reported that 19 cities had joined the strike movement in western Iran, where most of the country's Kurdish population live.