Iranian officials say the Tehran prison fire has been extinguished

CAIRO – A towering blaze at a notorious prison housing political prisoners and anti-government activists in the Iranian capital injured at least nine people but was extinguished after several hours and no detainee escaped, state media said on Sunday.

Flames and smoke billowed prominently from Tehran’s Evin prison on Saturday night as nationwide anti-government protests sparked by the death of a young woman in police custody entered their fifth week. Gunshots and explosions were heard in online videos in the area of ​​the prison.

State media said the fire erupted after a fight between prisoners in an apparent attempt to distance events there from the ongoing protests. Hundreds are being held in Evin, where human rights groups have reported repeated ill-treatment of detainees.

State television broadcast video of the aftermath of the fire on Sunday, which showed scorched walls and ceilings in a room said to be the top floor of a prison sewing workshop.

“This fire was caused by a fight between some prisoners in a sewing workshop,” Tehran’s governor Mohsen Mansouri said. “The workshop was set up to provide jobs for prisoners,” he said.

Iran’s state-run news agency IRNA, citing a senior security official, reported on Saturday that there had been clashes between prisoners in a department and prison staff. The official said prisoners set fire to a warehouse full of prison uniforms, which caused the fire. He said the “rioters” were separated from the other prisoners in a bid to de-escalate the conflict.

The officer said the “situation is fully under control” and firefighters doused the flames. Later, Tehran’s prosecutor Ali Salehi said calm had returned to the prison and the unrest had nothing to do with the protests that have shaken the country for four weeks.

IRNA later reported that nine people were injured, without elaborating. It released video showing burnt debris scattered around a building, with firefighters spraying down embers from the blaze.

The US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran reported that an “armed conflict” had broken out within the prison walls. The first shots were said to have been heard in Ward 7 of the prison. This invoice could not be confirmed immediately.

Footage of the fire circulated online. Videos showed gunshots ringing out as plumes of smoke rose into the sky while an alarm sounded. Shortly thereafter, a protest broke out in the streets, with many shouting “Death to the dictator!” – a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – and burning tires, the videos showed.

Witnesses said police blocked roads and highways into Evin and at least three powerful explosions were heard from the area. Traffic was heavy on the major highways near the prison in the north of the capital, and many people honked their horns to show their solidarity with the protests.

Riot police were driven towards the facility on motorcycles, as were ambulances and fire engines. Witnesses reported that the internet was blocked in the area.

The prison fire came as protesters stepped up anti-government demonstrations along main roads and at universities in some cities in Iran on Saturday. Human rights monitors reported hundreds dead, including children, as the movement ended 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 the Iranian Vice Police in Tehran for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.

President Joe Biden, on a trip to Oregon, said the Iranian government is “so repressive” and that he has “tremendous respect for people who march in the streets.”

Evin Prison, which holds inmates on security-related charges and also houses dual nationals, has been accused by rights groups of inmate abuse. The facility has long been known for holding political prisoners and those with Western ties who were used by Iran as bargaining chips in international negotiations.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. Iranian officials say the Tehran prison fire has been extinguished

Sarah Y. Kim

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