An Iranian deputy minister said on Sunday “some people” were poisoning schoolgirls in the holy city of Qom with the aim of shutting down education for girls. Since late November, hundreds of cases of respiratory poisoning have been reported among schoolgirls mainly in Qom, south of Tehran, with some needing hospital treatment. On Sunday, the deputy health minister, Younes Panahi, implicitly confirmed the poisonings had been deliberate. “After the poisoning of several students in Qom schools, it was found that some people wanted all schools, especially girls’ schools, to be closed,” the IRNA state news agency quoted Panahi as saying. On Feb 14, parents of students who had been ill had gathered outside the city’s governorate to “demand an explanation” from the authorities. The next day government spokesman Ali Bahadori Jahromi said the intelligence and education ministries were trying to find the cause of the poisoning. Last week, Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri ordered a judicial probe into the incidents. The poisoning comes as Iran has been rocked by protests since the Sept 16 death in custody of 22-year-old Iranian Kurd Mahsa Amini for an alleged violation of the country’s strict dress code for women.