At least four people have died, and scores were injured after a Tehran prison notorious for keeping political prisoners and anti-government activists was engulfed in a massive fire.
Flames and smoke rising from Tehran’s Evin Prison were widely visible Saturday evening as nationwide anti-government protests triggered by the death of a young woman in police custody entered the fifth week.
In online videos, gunshots and explosions could be heard in the area of the prison.
State-run media reported there were clashes overnight between prisoners and personnel in one of its wards.
The capital’s regional official said prisoners set fire to a warehouse which caused the blaze.
“This fire was caused by a fight between some prisoners in a sewing workshop,” said Tehran Governor Mohsen Mansouri. “The workshop was set up to create jobs” for prisoners, he said.
He said the “rioters” were separated from other prisoners to de-escalate the conflict. No detainees escaped, state media said.
A prosecutor said that “peace” had returned to the prison and that the unrest was not related to the protests which have swept the country for five weeks. The fire is said to have been extinguished.
Videos on social media showed shots ringing out as plumes of smoke rose into the sky amid the sound of an alarm. A protest broke out on the street soon after, with many chanting “Death to the Dictator!” — a reference to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Hundreds are being held at Evin, where human rights groups have reported repeated abuses of prisoners.
State media originally reported nine people were injured, but the judiciary website Mizan.news on Sunday said four inmates died of smoke inhalation and 61 others were injured. It said all four who died were in prison on robbery convictions.
Families of inmates gathered Sunday near the prison, hoping for news of their loved ones inside.
Masoumeh, 49, who only gave her first name, said his 19-year-old son was taken to prison two weeks ago after taking part in the street protests. “I cannot trust news about his health, I need to see him closely,” she said.
Another man, Reza, who also gave only his first name, said his brother has been in Evin Prison since last year after he was involved in a violent quarrel.
“He did not call us in recent days and following last night’s fire I am here to learn what happened to him,” he said.
Witnesses said that police blocked roads and highways to Evin and that at least three strong explosions were heard coming from the area.
Traffic was heavy along major highways near the prison, north of the capital, and many people honked to show their solidarity with the protests.
Riot police were seen riding on motorbikes toward the facility, as were ambulances and firetrucks. Witnesses reported that the internet was blocked in the area.
The riot came one month after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died after falling into a coma following her arrest by Iran’s morality police in Tehran for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.
Iran has seen an unprecedented wave of country-wide protests since her death, with at least 233 protesters killed in the last four weeks.
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