4 dead, 61 injured in fire at Iran’s Evin prison amid Mahsa Amini protests
- Prison workshop had been set on fire ‘after a fight among a number of prisoners convicted of financial crimes and theft’, authorities say
- Four of those injured in were in critical condition and those killed had died of smoke inhalation, according to state media
A fire at Iran’s Evin prison late on Saturday killed four detainees and injured 61, state media reported, as anti-government protests sparked by a woman’s death in police custody continued on Sunday, including at several universities.
Iranian authorities said on Saturday that a prison workshop had been set on fire “after a fight among a number of prisoners convicted of financial crimes and theft”. Evin holds many detainees facing security charges, including Iranians with dual nationality.
Iran’s judiciary said four of those injured in Saturday’s fire were in critical condition and that those killed had died of smoke inhalation, state media reported.
Earlier state television aired video apparently showing that calm had returned to the facility.
The protests sparked by 22-year-old Mahsa Amini’s death while in the custody of Iran’s morality police on September 16 have turned into one of the boldest challenges to the clerical leadership since the 1979 revolution, and have been met with a brutal state crackdown.
Rights groups say at least 240 protesters have been killed, including 32 minors. More than 8,000 people had been arrested in 111 cities and towns, Iranian activist news agency HRANA said on Saturday.
Among the casualties have been teenage girls whose deaths have become a rallying cry for more demonstrations across the country.
Authorities have not published a death toll.
Protests continued at several universities on Sunday, including in the cities of Tabriz and Rasht, to a heavy deployment of riot police. Videos posted on social media showed students at a Tehran university chanting: “Iran has turned into a big prison. Evin prison has become a slaughterhouse.”
Families of some political detainees at Evin prison took to social media to call on the authorities to ensure their safety, which in 2018 was blacklisted by the US government for “serious human rights abuses”.
Footage of the prison aired on state television hours later showed firefighters inspecting a workshop with fire damage to the roof. It also showed inmates asleep in their wards.
Rights groups had voiced grave fears for the inmates after gunshots and explosions were heard during the blaze from inside the complex, illuminated by flames and smothered by smoke in video footage posted on social media channels.
Atena Daemi, a human-rights activist, said relatives of prisoners held in the women’s section had gathered at the prison for routine visiting hours, but that authorities had denied them access, resulting in a stand-off.
The relatives were told that the prisoners were “fine, but the phones are broken”, according to Daemi. However, she later tweeted that some women prisoners had called their families briefly.
A lawyer representing Siamak Namazi, an American Iranian imprisoned at Evin for nearly seven years on espionage-related charges rejected by Washington as baseless, said on Sunday that Namazi had contacted his relatives.
Several other dual national Iranians and foreign citizens are held in Evin prison mostly for security-related charges.
“I am pleased to report that #SiamakNamazi has now spoken to his family. He is safe and has been moved to a secure area of Evin Prison. We have no further details at this time,” Jared Genser said in a tweet.
The husband of Iranian journalist Niloofar Hamedi, who broke the news of Amini’s death and was arrested last month, also wrote on Twitter that she had telephoned him on Sunday.
Iran, which has blamed the violence on enemies at home and abroad, denies security forces have killed protesters. State media said on Saturday at least 26 members of the security forces had been killed by “rioters”.
The protests have attracted international condemnation, with the United States, Canada and some European countries imposing sanctions on Iranian officials and organisations they accuse of being involved in the clampdown on protesters.
Asked about the prison fire, US President Joe Biden told reporters during a campaign trip on Saturday to Portland, Oregon that the Iranian government was “so oppressive” and that he was surprised by the courage of the Iranian protesters.
Iran’s foreign ministry said Biden had interfered in state matters by showing support for the anti-government protests.
“On Saturday … Biden interfered in Iran’s state matters by supporting the riots … In recent days, the US administration has tried desperately to inflame unrest in Iran under various excuses,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said, according to Iran’s state media.
“Iran is too strong for its will to be swayed by interference … by a politician tired of years of failure,” Kanaani wrote on Instagram.