News Digest: Week of March 6

March 6

Domestic: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the poisoning of schoolgirls “a huge, unforgivable crime.” He demanded that the perpetrators, when caught, face the death penalty. The new crisis followed nationwide protests over personal freedoms, soaring inflation as the value of the rial has dropped another 30 percent in just two months, and fuel shortages during a bitter winter. Up to 7,000 schoolgirls had been poisoned at dozens of schools in at least 28 of Iran’s 31 provinces, according to human rights groups and government officials.

Domestic: Tehran announced the discovery of the world's second-largest lithium deposit in Hamedan Province. “For the first time in Iran, a lithium reserve has been discovered in Hamedan,” a Ministry of Industry, Mines, and Trade official said. The ministry estimated that the deposit contained 8.5 million tons of lithium, a metal used in rechargeable batteries for a wide range of consumer products, including electric vehicles and cellphones.


March 7

Domestic: The government announced the first arrests in connection with the poisoning of schoolgirls. “A number of people have been arrested in five provinces and the relevant agencies are conducting a full investigation,” Deputy Interior Minister Majid Mirahmadi told state television. Mirahmadi had previously cited “stress, rumors and psychological war, started particularly by hostile TV channels” as causes for the illnesses. 

International: Iran transferred more than 400 Afghan prisoners to the Taliban government on March 6 and March 7. The move followed a visit by the Taliban’s attorney general in February. The Taliban foreign ministry described the transfer as a “a positive step toward deepening and strengthening relations and cooperation” between the Afghan and Iranian governments. 

International: Israel accused Iran of a cyberattack against an Israeli university in February. Israel’s National Cyber Directorate stated that the group behind the attack, known as “Muddy Water,” was affiliated with Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security. The hackers used malware designed to penetrate the Technion Institute’s operating systems. The same day, a group that called itself “DarkBit” claimed responsibility for the attack. The group demanded a ransom for the information it had obtained from university servers. 

International: Washington expressed skepticism that Iran would fulfill commitments made in a joint statement with the U.N. nuclear watchdog on March 4. “Iran committed to take important steps and expressed a readiness to provide long overdue cooperation with the agency,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said. “We expect, most importantly, Iran to take prompt and concrete action in line with the joint statement. Too many times in the past we’ve seen Iran issue vague promises, only never to follow through.”

Some of the information in this article was originally published on March 6, 2023.