It’s been 48 hours of anguish for families with loved ones in Tehran’s Evin prison. On Saturday night, a massive fire, explosions, and shootings erupted inside the prison compound, according to witness accounts and videos on social media. Evin holds thousands of prisoners, including most of the prominent detained human rights defenders, journalists, activists, and dual nationals, who should not have been jailed in the first place.
It is still unclear what caused the fire in Evin, but according to the Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA), most of the clashes and violence occurred near ward 7, and at some point during the night, external security forces joined prison guards to attack prisoners. Security forces armed with pellet guns and live ammunition first arrested the alleged protesters and transferred the rest to open air areas, HRANA reported. They made prisoners stand outside, forced them to take off clothes and lay on the floor on their stomach, and then beat them. According to HRANA, at least three political prisoners have been injured by pellets. It is not clear how many people were injured or were arrested and transferred to different parts of the prison.
Several political prisoners who were detained in different parts of the prison and contacted family mentioned being exposed to tear gas. While dozens of activists and political prisoners have made brief phone calls to families, others, particularly those detained in solitary confinement and several of those detained in ward 8 who were also subjected to violence, remain incommunicado.
The government’s Judiciary’s media center reported the fire broke out in a workshop due to “clashes between prisoners convicted of financial crimes and robbery.” According to the Judiciary’s media website, 8 prisoners suffocated to death and 61 were injured. Fars News Agency, an outlet close to Iran’s intelligence agencies, initially reported and then quickly denied that the explosions were the result of prisoners fleeing the prison.
Iranian authorities have a shameful track record of impunity, and their ongoing brutal crackdown against protesters and activists should raise further concern about the violence used against detainees in Evin. Authorities are responsible for safety and security of every person behind bars. With their track record, an independent investigation is urgently needed to shed light on what happened in Evin and potential serious violations, but right now authorities should also immediately let families know about the health of their loved ones.