Fire breaks out at Tehran's Evin prison

Gunfire heard near the notorious site which holds political prisoners

Fire breaks out at Tehran's Evin prison

A view of smoke rising from Evin Prison in Tehran, Iran, October 15, 2022 in this still image take from a video obtained by Reuters.  THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.  NO RESALES.  NO ARCHIVES.
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A fire broke out and gunfire was reportedly heard at a notorious Tehran prison that holds political prisoners and dual-national detainees.

Iranian state media quoted a security official blaming “criminal elements” for the unrest at Evin prison on Saturday that left eight people injured.

The incident came after nearly a month of protests across Iran over the death in detention of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish Iranian woman.

The Iranian judiciary said a prison workshop was set on fire “after a fight among a number of prisoners convicted of financial crimes and theft”.

Tehran's fire department told state media the cause of the incident was under investigation.

“Roads leading to Evin prison have been closed to traffic. There are lots of ambulances here,” one witness said. “Still we can hear gunshots.”

Another witness said families of prisoners had gathered in front of the main prison entrance. “I can see fire and smoke. Lots of special forces,” the witness said.

A security official said calm had been restored at the prison, but the first witness said ambulance sirens could be heard and smoke still rose over the prison.

“People from nearby buildings are chanting 'Death to Khamenei' from their windows,” the witness said.

The prison mostly holds detainees facing security charges, including a number of dual nationals.

Siamak Namazi, an Iranian American imprisoned in Iran for nearly seven years on espionage-related charges rejected by Washington as baseless, returned to Evin on Wednesday after being granted a brief furlough, his lawyer said.

Other US citizens held in Evin include the environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, who also has British nationality, and businessman Emad Shargi, according to human rights lawyer Saeid Dehghan.

Other dual nationals held at Evin include the French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah and Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian-Swedish disaster medicine doctor, he said.

US State Department Spokesman Ned Price said in a tweet: "We are following reports from Evin Prison with urgency. We are in contact with the Swiss as our protecting power. Iran is fully responsible for the safety of our wrongfully detained citizens, who should be released immediately."

The Iranian Tasnim news agency quoted an unnamed official as saying that no political prisoners were involved in the disturbance and that "the ward for security prisoners is separate and far from the wards for thieves and those convicted of financial crimes".

The agency released a video on Twitter on Sunday morning, reportedly taken an hour after the fire, that showed silent, empty corridors and inmates either sleeping or sitting calmly in their cells. It was not clear in which section of the prison the footage was shot.

Evin prison has long been criticised by western rights groups and it was blacklisted by the US government in 2018 for “serious human rights abuses”.

Human Rights Watch has accused authorities at the prison of using threats of torture and of indefinite imprisonment, as well as lengthy interrogations and denial of medical care for detainees.

The unrest at Evin prison came after nearly a month of protests across Iran since Amini, 22, died on September 16 while being held for "inappropriate attire".

Although the unrest does not appear close to toppling the system, the protests have widened into strikes that have closed shops and businesses, touched the vital energy sector and inspired brazen acts of dissent against Iran's religious rule.

On Saturday protesters across Iran chanted in the streets and in universities against the country's clerical leaders.

A video posted by the Norway-based organisation Iran Human Rights purported to show protests in the north-eastern city of Mashhad, Iran's second-most populous city, with demonstrators chanting "clerics get lost" and drivers honking their horns.

Videos posted by the group showed a strike by shopkeepers in the north-western Kurdish city of Saqez — Amini's home town. Another video on social media showed female high school students chanting "Woman, Life, Freedom" on the streets of Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan province.

Authorities have repeatedly blocked phone and internet services over the last month and internet watchdog NetBlocks reported "a new major disruption" shortly before Saturday's protests began.

The Iranian activist news agency HRANA said 240 protesters have been killed in the unrest, including 32 minors. It said 26 members of the security forces were killed and nearly 8,000 people had been arrested in protests in 111 cities and towns and 73 universities.

Among the casualties have been teenage girls whose deaths have become a rallying cry for more demonstrations demanding the downfall of the Islamic republic.

Protesters called on Saturday for demonstrations in the north-western city of Ardabil over the death of Asra Panahi, a teenager from the Azeri ethnic minority who activists allege was beaten to death by security forces.

Officials denied the report and news agencies close to the Revolutionary Guards quoted her uncle as saying the high school student had died of a heart problem.

Tasnim reported on Sunday that 15 people were arrested after gunfire in the south-western city of Abadan and that "five combat weapons and four illegal hunting weapons" were recovered from them along with 143 rounds of ammunition.

— With reporting from agencies.

Updated: October 16, 2022, 7:18 AM