Iran prosecutes celebrities for ‘lies and rumours’ about school poisonings

Iranian justice has indicted dozens of artists, reformist politicians and journalists for “spreading rumors and lies” in the media and social media about gas attacks on girls’ schools.

Judiciary spokesman Masoud Setayeshi told a press briefing on Tuesday that around thirty celebrities had been charged by the courts and threatened them with severe consequences if they continued with such activities.

This was announced by the Ministry of the Interior on Saturday over 100 people in eleven provinces were arrested in connection with the poisonings that began in the religious city of Qom in central Iran in late November and spread to dozens of schools across the country. Authorities say the defendants were linked to “terrorist groups” and foreign governments.

However, the government has not released any details about these alleged arrests as the public remains skeptical about the government’s role in the attacks.

Among the celebrities blamed for his social media posts about the spate of attacks is popular actor Reza Kianyan. In a recent Instagram post, Kianyan shared a poster showing two men in black balaclavas and combat uniform holding a little girl with a gas mask on her face, fearlessly flashing a victory sign at one of the two men.

Kianian came under massive attack from hardliners on social media for a post that suggested the involvement of security forces in the poisonings and demanded that authorities take legal action against him for defaming the security forces.

Like Kianyan, many ordinary Iranians have been suspicious of the involvement of the regime itself or religious extremists protected by the regime in the school attacks, calling the acts “state terrorism”.

Instagram post by actor Reza Kianyan

Authorities have released very little about the alleged perpetrators, the nature of the attacks and the chemicals used to poison the children. The state television, however, broadcast so-called “confessions” last week of a man and his daughter arrested and charged with attacking schools with N2 gas canisters.

One of the accused said in the video that they lit “wicks” attached to the boxes before throwing them into the courtyards of seven schools in Larestan, a city in southern Iran. Experts say N2 is neither poisonous nor flammable to require a flame to break out and spread.

Several prominent actors and other entertainers who supported the Mahsa protest movement by criticizing the regime or posting photos of themselves without hijab on social media, such as popular actress Tarane Alidusti, have been arrested in the past six months.

Despite the mandatory hijab, Alidusti looked ‘without hijab’ in pictures taken outside Tehran’s Evin prison with her colleagues and supporters after she was released on high bail in January after nearly three weeks in prison.

Actress Tarane Alidusti after being released on bail from jail

The harsh legal action against the celebrities follows threats of “harsh punishment” by Chief Justice Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei against those who criticize the authorities over the gas attacks that sent hundreds of schoolgirls to hospital.

The judiciary spokesman also said on Tuesday that charges had been filed against three newspaper editors, academic and reformist political activist Sadegh Zibakalam and National Unity Party secretary-general Azar Mansoori for “spreading rumors and lies”.

Around sixty journalists have been arrested since September in connection with the protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in moral police custody after being arrested in the street for not wearing her hijab “correctly”. Two female reporters, Elahe Mohammadi and Nilufar Hamidi, who were arrested in October for their reporting on Mahsa’s death, are still in prison.

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