‘Hellish night’ as Evin Prison set on fire, gunshots heard

‘Hellish night’ as Evin Prison set on fire, gunshots heard

A fire at a Tehran prison housing hundreds of political prisoners, including a dozen Christians, caused widespread alarm on Saturday night, claiming at least four lives.

Many more are believed to have been injured as a result of the fire at Evin Prison, whose cause has not yet been established, while it is widely believed that the state TV’s official death toll – at first reported at 40, before hastily being reduced to four – is likely to be well short of the true figure.

The sound of gunfire and videos showing projectiles being thrown into the prison, resulting in explosions, increased alarm among all those with loved ones inside. 

A family member of one imprisoned Christian told Article18: “It was a hellish night for us. We were completely in the dark about what was happening. Then, when we were finally able to speak, we heard the sound of shooting and then the phone was disconnected. We wept until the morning.”

The chaotic scenes took place as protests continue across the country in the wake of the death in custody of a young Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for “improper” wearing of her headscarf.

In the four weeks since the 22-year-old’s death, protests have raged across the country, and they continue still, amounting to what many believe to be the greatest threat to the Islamic Republic since its inception 43 years ago.

The latest flashpoint came on Saturday night, when footage of a burning Evin Prison – Iran’s most notorious jail – was shared widely on social media, causing outrage and deep concern for the many prisoners held there only because their beliefs deviate from those of the state.

Among them are a dozen Christian prisoners of conscience – the majority held in Ward 8 of the prison, with the others in the women’s ward.

And while the fire was publicly reported to have centred on Ward 7 of the prison, Article18’s source said the inmates of Ward 8 were forced into desperate action to prevent the fire from spreading to their ward.

“In the morning, our relative called us to tell us that he was OK,” our source said. “But he also said most of the prisoners in Ward 8 had been helping to put out the fire with every tool they could get their hands on – from buckets and containers, to water hoses.”

None of the Christian prisoners of conscience – including a 64-year-old man with advanced Parkinson’s disease and several others in their 50s and 60s – were harmed, but at least four other prisoners died and many more were filmed being taken away on buses to an unknown location.

State media claimed the fire was caused by a fight between prisoners in a clothes workshop in the prison, but some of the prisoners who who were able to call home reported that guards were shooting into the wards, and that some of the prisoners from Ward 8 had been transferred elsewhere because it was feared they may start a riot.