Iran Evin Prison Fire: Multiple casualties at Iran’s infamous detention center

A major fire at Iran’s notorious Evin prison has killed four people and injured 61 others, according to Iran’s state news agency. According to some sources in the prison, which is known for holding political prisoners, the number of those killed is higher.

Videos posted online showed flames, smoke, gunshots and explosions at the Tehran site. Protests against the government have been ongoing in Iran for weeks.

They began last month after Mahsa Amini, an Iranian Kurd who was 22 years old, died in police custody. Officials said she died of a heart attack, but her family said she was beaten by police for morale, which is not what officials said.

State media said the two were unrelated, citing an official who said the fire was caused by “criminal elements”.

From inside the prison, Tehran’s governor told state television that there had been a riot in a part of the prison where petty criminals were kept.

Some journalists said on social media that the government “deliberately set fire to the prison” because a prominent political prisoner was sent home before the fire started. According to his brother Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is the son of Iran’s late former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, he was granted “early parole”.

Saturday night was the first time video of the fire and smoke was shared on social media. People outside the prison can be heard chanting “death to the dictator” in several videos. This was one of the main slogans of the movement against the government.

In other videos, you can hear gunshots and explosions. The Fars news agency, which is affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, said the mines exploded after inmates escaped from the prison. It said an inmate who tried to escape during the fire ended up in a minefield on the north side of the prison.

But one video appeared to show things being fired into the prison from outside its walls and then an explosion was heard. The family of a political prisoner told BBC Persian that the prisoners’ families and lawyers were not allowed into the prison last night and roads were blocked.

Families of some inmates said they were unable to call loved ones on the phone, and internet connection around the prison appeared to be down. But in the end, some prisoners were able to contact their families and tell them they are safe.

The journalist’s husband, Nilufar Hamed, said she was able to call him and he told her he was fine but did not know what happened in the prison. And Siamak Namazi, who is both Iranian and American, told his lawyer that he had been moved to a safe place.

On Saturday night, parts of the prison were shown on Iranian state television as safe and quiet. Massoud Kazemi, an Iranian journalist in exile who spent almost a year in Evin, said the report only showed parts of the prison where nothing happened.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anusha Ashori are British and Iranian. Both were held in Evin prison for several years on espionage charges, which they denied until early this year.

Western human rights groups have always said bad things about the prison. Human Rights Watch said prison officials used threats of torture and life imprisonment, as well as lengthy interrogations and denial of medical care to detainees.

In August last year, a hacker group called Edalat-e Ali (Ali’s Justice) published videos of leaked surveillance footage from Evin prison which show guards beating or abusing prisoners.

Some foreign governments are concerned that their people are being held in prison. A US State Department spokesman said it was following the developments with “urgency”, and the UK government’s security secretary called it a “very worrying development”.

Since Ms. Amini died five weeks ago, a wave of protests has swept Iran, posing the biggest challenge to the Islamic Republic since it was founded in 1979. Teenagers were among the dead.

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