At least four prisoners have been killed and 61 others injured after a fire broke out at Tehran’s Evin prison overnight following a fight between inmates, the official state news agency IRNA reported quoting the country’s judiciary.
Smoke inhalation was said to be the cause of the deaths, IRNA reported on Sunday, adding 10 inmates are hospitalised with four in “critical condition”.
The facility mostly holds political prisoners, including Iranians with dual nationality. Families of about two dozen political prisoners have called to say they are unharmed, according to their accounts on social media.
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The prison has long been criticised by Western rights groups and was blacklisted by the United States government in 2018 for “serious human rights abuses”.
The incident took place as nationwide protests over the death in detention of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman, entered a fifth week.
The protests have posed one of the most serious challenges to the Iranian government since the 1979 revolution, with demonstrations spreading across the country and some people chanting slogans against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
State TV on Sunday aired footage of the fire’s aftermath, showing scorched walls and ceilings in a room it said was the upper floor of a sewing workshop at the prison. Tehran prosecutor Ali Salehi said the prison unrest was not related to the nationwide protests and the situation was peaceful after the incident.
The fire started at about 10pm (6.30pm GMT), Al Jazeera’s Resul Sardar said, adding that it involved different units of the prison.
“Officials here say there were clashes between prisoners and that some of those prisoners have set the fire in the warehouse, in the sewing workshop of the prison,” Sardar said, referring to a statement made earlier by Tehran Governor Mohsen Mansouri.
“However some witnesses are saying that some Molotov cocktails were thrown into the prison and that they started the fire. Right after that, we have seen security forces firing and also using tear gas to disperse people,” he added.
witnesses said families of inmates 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, while IRNA reported that “the situation is currently completely under control”. But the first witness told Reuters that ambulance sirens could be heard and smoke still rose over the prison.