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Large blaze, shots heard from notorious Evin prison in Tehran amid protests

Iranian media, citing security official, says situation ‘completely under control’; crowd chants ‘death to dictator’ in videos circulated online

A fire is seen at Evin Prison in northern Tehran, Iran, on October 15, 2022. (Screenshot: Twitter, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
A fire is seen at Evin Prison in northern Tehran, Iran, on October 15, 2022. (Screenshot: Twitter, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A huge fire erupted and gunshots were heard at a notorious prison where political prisoners and anti-government activists are kept in the Iranian capital, as nationwide protests entered a fifth week.

Iran’s state-run IRNA reported that there were clashes between prisoners in one ward and prison personnel at Evin Prison in northern Tehran, citing a senior security official.

The official said prisoners had set fire to a warehouse full of prison uniforms, which caused the blaze. He said the “rioters” were separated from the other prisoners to de-escalate the conflict.

The official said the “situation is completely under control” and that firemen were extinguishing the flames.

But footage of the blaze continued to circulate online. Videos showed shots ringing out as plumes of smoke engulfed the sky in Tehran amid the sound of an alarm.

The US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran reported that an “armed conflict” broke out within the prison walls. It said shots were first heard in Ward 7 of the prison. This account could not immediately be verified.

Chants of “Death to the dictator” — one of the main slogans of a month-long protest movement that has flared over the death of Amini — could be heard in a video shared online, reportedly from near the prison.

The prison is infamous for the ill-treatment of political prisoners.

A group of hackers calling themselves Edalat-e Ali (Ali’s Justice) posted videos in August last year of leaked surveillance footage from Evin prison showing guards beating or mistreating inmates.

The prison fire occurred as protesters intensified anti-government demonstrations along main streets and at universities in some cities across Iran on Saturday.

Human rights monitors reported hundreds dead, including children, as the movement concluded its fourth week.

The protests erupted after public outrage over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody. She was arrested by Iran’s morality police in Tehran for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code. Iran’s government insists Amini was not mistreated in police custody, but her family says her body showed bruises and other signs of beating after she was detained.

At least 233 protesters have been killed since demonstrations swept Iran on September 17, according to US-based rights monitor HRANA. The group said 32 among the dead were below the age of 18. Earlier, Oslo-based Iran Human Rights estimated 201 people have been killed.

Iranian authorities have dismissed the unrest as a purported Western plot, without providing evidence.

Public anger in Iran has coalesced around Amini’s death, prompting girls and women to remove their mandatory headscarves on the street in a show of solidarity. Other segments of society, including oil workers, have also joined the movement, which has spread to at least 19 cities, becoming one of the greatest challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the country’s 2009 Green Movement.

A photo depicting Mahsa Amini, a young Iranian woman who died after being arrested in Tehran by Iran’s notorious ‘morality police,’ seen during a protest by Israeli women in solidarity with Iranian women in central Jerusalem, Thursday, October 6, 2022. (AP Photo/ Maya Alleruzzo)

Riots have also broken out in prisons, with clashes reported between inmates and guards in Lakan prison in the northern province of Gilan recently.

Commercial strikes resumed Saturday in key cities across the Kurdish region, including Saqqez, Amini’s hometown and the birthplace of the protests, Bukan and Sanandaj.

The government has responded with a brutal crackdown, arresting activists and protest organizers, reprimanding Iranian celebrities for voicing support, even confiscating their passports, and using live ammunition, tear gas and sound bombs to disperse crowds, leading to deaths.

Widespread internet outages have also made it difficult for protesters to communicate with the outside world, while Iranian authorities have detained at least 40 journalists since the unrest began, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

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