Iran's judiciary said that four prisoners have been killed and 61 others were injured on Sunday after a fire broke out at Tehran's Evin prison overnight, the official state news agency IRNA reported.
According to the report, the four prisoners died due to smoke inhalation caused by the fire and 61 others were injured, with 51 of these treated on an outpatient basis, IRNA added.
Protests erupted near Tehran's Evin prison, which holds political prisoners, on Saturday night after a fire broke out in the prison earlier in the night, with Iranian officials claiming that inmates at the prison had begun rioting and torched a warehouse.
Videos published on social media showed smoke and flames rising on Saturday from the prison, as gunfire and explosions could be heard in the background.
"Gunshots can be heard from Evin Prison and smoke can be seen," said the 1500tasvir Twitter account, which also shared video footage it said showed special forces on motorbikes heading for the prison.
"Families of prisoners have gathered in front of the main door of Evin prison," said a witness contacted by Reuters. "I can see fire and smoke. Lots of special forces. Ambulances are here too."
Eight people were injured in the incident, according to Iranian state media.
The official IRNA news agency, citing a "senior security official," reported that "On Saturday evening, the ward where thugs were kept witnessed unrest and conflict between these elements in the prison, which led to a conflict between these people and the personnel of Evin prison."
The security official claimed that "thugs" had set fire to a warehouse containing clothes and that the situation and the fire were under control.
Iranian journalist Masoud Kazemi reported on Saturday night that shortly before the fire some of the prisoners began chanting anti-government slogans, leading to an anti-riot force entering to confront them. Shortly afterwards, heavy gunfire was heard and the phones in the prison were disconnected.
Video shared by 1500tasvir showed Iranians gathering around the prison and protesting, with cries of "death to the dictator!" and other slogans heard in the video. As of 1 a.m. Israel time, gunshots were reportedly heard in the vicinity of the prison. A heavy prison of security forces was recorded throughout the area in videos shared on social media.
اطراف زندان اوین pic.twitter.com/cbzzBIQZyd— +۱۵۰۰تصویر (@1500tasvir) October 15, 2022
Siamak Namazi, an Iranian American imprisoned in Iran for nearly seven years on espionage-related charges rejected by Washington as baseless, returned to Evin on Wednesday after being granted a brief furlough, his lawyer said. Other dual nationals are also held at Evin.
On Saturday night, 1500tasvir reported that mobile internet in much of Tehran was shut off, a method often used by Iranian authorities to prevent information and footage from being shared outside of Iran.
A number of opposition-affiliated Twitter accounts noted that reports of an alarm and gunfire at Evin Prison had been published by a number of suspicious accounts two hours before the fire even started, raising suspicions that the incident had been pre-planned.
Asked about the prison fire, US President Joe Biden told reporters during a campaign trip to Portland, Oregon: "The Iranian government is so oppressive."
He said he was surprised by "the courage of people and women taking (to) the street" in the recent protests and had enormous respect for them. "It's been really amazing," he added. "They're not a good group, in the government."
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price responded to the reports on Saturday night, tweeting "We are following reports from Evin Prison with urgency. We are in contact with the Swiss as our protecting power. Iran is fully responsible for the safety of our wrongfully detained citizens, who should be released immediately."
Why is the Evin prison unique?
The prison, which mostly holds detainees facing security charges, has long been criticised by Western rights groups and it was blacklisted by the US government in 2018 for "serious human rights abuses".
Human Rights Watch has accused authorities at the prison of using threats of torture and of indefinite imprisonment, as well as lengthy interrogations and denial of medical care for detainees.