Four convicts perished in a massive fire at a notorious prison housing political prisoners and anti-government dissidents in the capital of Iran, the country’s judiciary reported on Sunday. The heartbreaking images have spread over Iranian social media.
On Saturday evening, flames and thick smoke could be seen rising from Tehran’s Evin Prison as nationwide anti-government demonstrations that were prompted by the death of a young woman in police custody entered their sixth week. On videos posted online, the area around the prison could be heard having gunshots and explosions.
According to state media, the fire was extinguished after a number of hours without any detainees being released.
Authorities have made an effort to distinguish between the events at the prison and the ongoing protests, despite the fact that official media has presented a variety of descriptions of the violence. Human rights organisations have gathered evidence of continued detainee abuse at Evin, where hundreds are kept.
On Sunday, relatives of prisoners gathered close to the prison in anticipation of hearing from their loved ones there.
Masoumeh, 49, who only gave her first name, asserted that her son, 19, was taken to jail two weeks ago for taking part in the street protests. She said, “I need to watch him closely since I can’t believe the rumours concerning his health.
Another man, Reza, who also only gave his first name, stated that his brother had been detained in Evin Prison since last year as a result of a violent dispute. He stated: “I’ve come here in the wake of yesterday night’s fire to find out what happened to him. In recent days, he has not called us.”
Four convicts died from smoke inhalation on Sunday, according to the judiciary-affiliated website Mizan.news, and 61 others were hurt. Initial reports from state media indicated that nine people had been harmed. According to the report, the four victims were all incarcerated on robbery-related crimes.
Ten convicts, four of whom had serious conditions, were hospitalised, according to Mizan. It stated that numerous prisoners had made escape attempts but were unsuccessful.
On Sunday, state media apparently broadcast images of the fire’s devastation, including burned walls and ceilings on what was allegedly the upper floor of the prison’s sewing facility.
The fire, according to Tehran Governor Mohsen Mansouri, was ignited by a fight between some detainees in a sewing shop. He cited the workshop’s founding objective as the creation of jobs.
On social media, Iranians refuted claims made by the state media about the cause of the fire and apparent explosions at the prison. All detainees are frequently sent to their wards, and the workshops are closed by dusk, according to former prisoner and rights activist Atena Daemi.
A senior security official was quoted by Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency as saying that on Saturday, there were confrontations between prisoners in one section and prison employees. The official claimed that convicts lit a warehouse full of prison uniforms on fire to start the fire. He asserted that the “rioters” were separated from the other detainees in order to diffuse the situation.
The official said that firefighters were extinguishing the fires and that “everything is completely under control.” Later, Tehran prosecutor Ali Salehi asserted that tranquilly had returned to the prison and that the unrest there had nothing to do with the ongoing, four-week-old nationwide protests.
According to the Iranian Center for Human Rights, a US-based organisation, a “armed conflict” broke out behind the prison’s walls. Ward 7 of the prison is where the initial shooting was reportedly heard. There was no way to verify this account right away.
Videos of the fire were posted online. Videos showed gunfire ringing out as smoke plumes and an alarm soared into the sky. A public protest included tyre burning and cries of “Death to the Dictator!” in reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei took place shortly after.
According to online video of the prison fire, security forces seemed to fire missiles in the general direction of the jail, which was later followed by at least two explosions.
It was not immediately clear what kind of rounds the Iranian security personnel used during the incident.
Witnesses observed police block roads and highways going to Evin and heard at least three large explosions coming from the vicinity. There was heavy traffic on major highways close to the prison, which is situated in the north of the capital, and many motorists honked in support of the protests.
Along with riot police, other vehicles heading toward the scene on motorbikes included ambulances and firetrucks. Witnesses claim that internet connection was prohibited in the area.
In certain locations throughout Iran, protesters increased their anti-government demonstrations on main avenues and in universities on Saturday. At this point, the prison started to burn. As the movement entered its fourth week, hundreds of deaths—including those of children—were reported by human rights observers.
Protests started after Mahsa Amini, 22, died while being held by the police, causing considerable indignation. She was detained by Tehran’s morality police for disregarding the strict clothing code of the Islamic Republic. The Iranian government insists that Amini was not mistreated while in police custody, but her family claims that when she was arrested, her body showed signs of violence, including bruises.
According to a statement issued on Sunday by the Iranian Parliament, Amini did not pass away due to a physical injury, but rather because she fell and the police failed to give her prompt medical assistance once she did. Amini’s family refuted a coroner’s report that also said Amini did not die from any physical blows or beatings.
President Joe Biden said the Iranian “government is so oppressive” while on a visit to Oregon, and he also voiced his “enormous sympathy for people marching in the streets.”
Rights groups have charged Evin Prison with abusing its inmates. Dual citizens and those being held for offences relating to security are both housed in the prison. The facility has a long history of hosting political prisoners as well as Western-affiliated captives who were used by Iran as bargaining chips in international negotiations.