Inmates at Iran’s Evin prison, where political prisoners, journalists, and foreign nationals are incarcerated, suffered severe losses when a major fire broke out on Saturday. There were images circulating on social media of flames and smoke from the Tehran site, and gunshots and explosions could be heard.
State media reported that the blaze had been contained, but video shot later appeared to show the fire still burning.
The country has been gripped for weeks by anti-regime protests. Family members of Mahsa Amini claim she was murdered after she was taken into custody last month, when 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian Mahsa Amini died. Officials said she died of a heart attack, but her family disagreed, saying that she had been beaten by morality police.
It is not known whether the situation at the prison is connected to recent demonstrations. Hundreds of protesters have been sent to Evin prison, suggesting that this could be the case.
An official has reportedly said that the fire was caused by ‘criminal elements,’ dismissing the notion that it was linked to the two detainees. Eight people were injured, according to state-run outlet IRNA.
According to Tehran’s governor, who spoke to state TV from inside the prison, a riot took place in a section housing minor offenders, and everything is now calm.
People outside the prison could be heard in several videos shouting, ‘Death to the dictator,’ a slogan of the anti-government protest movement. Gunshots and explosions were audible in others. Huge numbers of people gathered outside the prison, traffic came to a halt, and riot police were seen entering the facility.
Despite Iranian media reporting that calm had been restored, the situation at the prison remained chaotic, gunshots and the sound of fire could still be heard in the videos being posted on social media.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori were both imprisoned at Evin prison on spying charges, which they denied, before they were released earlier this year.
Human Rights Watch has long criticized the prison’s Western rights groups. HRW has accused authorities at the facility of threatening torture, holding detainees for indefinite periods without medical care, and subjecting detainees to lengthy interrogations.
In August 2017, a group of hackers known as Edalat-e Ali posted videos showing prison guards beating or abusing detainees.
The UK Government’s security minister said it was a “very worrying development,” while the US State Department said it was following events with “urgency.”
Since the death of Ms Amini five weeks ago, a wave of protests has swept across Iran in the boldest challenge to the Islamic Republic since its establishment in 1979.