In Tehran, Iran, Evin prison is a notorious detention center known for holding dissidents and political prisoners among its thousands of inmates. Sections of it are run by Iran’s intelligence services and Revolutionary Guard, and there have been accusations of torture and human rights abuses against the facility. In 2018, Evin became the subject of US sanctions due to human rights concerns.
On Saturday, a fire broke out at Evin prison. So far, eight prisoners have been confirmed dead, and at least 61 have gotten injuries that sent them to the hospital. Iran says that inmates started the fire and all the deaths were from a prison section for robbery-related crimes. On Sunday, inmates reported that guards fired tear gas all night, and witnesses also reported gunshots during the blaze.
Right now, Iranian authorities are blaming the fire on an attempted prison escape. With all of the demonstrations and protests going on after the death of Mahsa Amini, this fire is concerning to activists and is contributing to national anxiety amid intense political unrest.
“Prisoners, including countless political prisoners, are completely defenseless inside that prison,” Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, said in a statement.
“Evin is no ordinary prison. Many of Iran’s best & brightest have spent long stretches confined there, where brave women & men are denied their basic rights for speaking truth to power,” tweeted Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post journalist who was held in Evin on questionable spying allegations.
Speaking to state broadcaster IRIB, Tehran’s prosecutor Ali Salehi said the “conflict” at the prison was not related to the ongoing protests following Mahsa Amini’s death.
“It felt like we were watching a war movie,” said Amirdaryoush Youhaei, a 22-year-old university student who lives in the neighborhood. “There was a massive siren and then 11 big explosions and machine gunfire that didn’t stop.”