TEHERAN, Iran (AFP) - Four people have died after drinking home-made alcohol in southern Iran and 298 others were poisoned, the ISNA news agency quoted a local health official as saying on Friday.
"Nine of the victims are in a coma and have lost their vision," said Hamid Najmeddin, adding that 100 of the victims were on dialysis after drinking the alcohol on Wednesday.
He said the victims were admitted to local hospitals in and near the city of Rafsanjan in the southern province of Kerman.
According to the report, all the victims were male and under 27 years old.
The consumption of alcohol has been forbidden in Iran since the 1979 revolution under syariah (Islamic) law, and violations are punishable by jail or lashing.
Only recognised Christian minorities in Iran, such as the country's Armenian community, are allowed to produce and consume alcohol, but discreetly and behind closed doors, in order not to offend Islamic sensibilities.
But despite severe penalties under the Islamic penal law, 60 to 80 million litres of alcohol are smuggled into the country each year, according to officials, while police manage to seize only about 20 million litres.
Police chief Esmaeel Ahmadi Moghadam said last year that some 200,000 alcoholics lived in Iran.
Home distilled spirits, which sell for far less than foreign brands smuggled from abroad, are widely consumed in the Islamic republic.
But the use of industrial chemicals in their production can pose a serious health risk.