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Iranian officials say Tehran prison blaze killed 4 inmates

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A towering blaze at a notorious prison housing political prisoners and anti-government activists in Iran’s capital killed 4 inmates, the country’s judiciary said Sunday, in dramatic scenes which have reverberated across Iranian social media.

Flames and thick smoke rising from Tehran’s Evin Prison had been widely visible Saturday evening, as nationwide anti-government protests triggered by the death of a young woman in police custody entered a fifth week. In online videos, gunshots and explosions could possibly be heard in the realm of the prison.

The blaze was extinguished after several hours and no detainees escaped, state media said.

Authorities have attempted to distance the events on the prison from the continued protests, while state media has offered conflicting accounts of the violence. Lots of are being held at Evin, where human rights groups have reported repeated abuses of prisoners.

Families of inmates gathered Sunday near the prison hoping for news of their family members inside.

Masoumeh, 49, who only gave her first name, said her 19-year-old son was taken to the prison two weeks ago after collaborating on the street protests. “I cannot trust news about his health, I would like to see him closely,” she said.

One other man, Reza, who also gave only his first name, said his brother has been in Evin Prison since last yr after he was involved in a violent quarrel. “He didn’t call us in recent days and following last night’s fire I’m here to learn what happened to him,” he said.

State media originally reported nine people were injured however the judiciary-affiliated website Mizan.news on Sunday said 4 inmates died of smoke inhalation and 61 others were injured. It said all 4 who died were in prison on robbery convictions.

Ten inmates were hospitalized, with 4 of them in serious condition, Mizan reported. It said some prisoners had tried to flee but failed.

State TV on Sunday aired video purporting to point out the hearth’s aftermath of scorched partitions and ceilings in a room it said was the upper floor of a stitching workshop on the prison.

“This fireplace was attributable to a fight between some prisoners in a stitching workshop,” said Tehran Gov. Mohsen Mansouri. “The workshop was set as much as create jobs” for prisoners, he said.

Iranian social media posts challenged state media claims over the explanation for the hearth and apparent explosions on the prison. A former inmate of Evin and rights activist Atena Daemi identified that normally, all prisoners are sent to their wards and the workshops closed by sunset, she said in a Tweet Sunday.

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reported Saturday that there have been clashes between prisoners in a single ward and prison personnel, citing a senior security official. The official said prisoners set fire to a warehouse stuffed with prison uniforms, which caused the blaze. He said the “rioters” were separated from the opposite prisoners to de-escalate the conflict.

The official said the “situation is totally under control” and that firefighters were extinguishing the flames. Later, Tehran prosecutor Ali Salehi said that calm had returned to the prison and that the unrest was not related to the protests which have swept the country for 4 weeks.

The U.S.-based Center for Human Rights in Iran reported that an “armed conflict” broke out throughout the prison partitions. It said shots were first heard in Ward 7 of the prison. This account couldn’t immediately be corroborated.

Footage of the hearth circulated online. Videos showed shots ringing out as plumes of smoke rose into the sky amid the sound of an alarm. A protest broke out on the road soon after, with many chanting “Death to the Dictator!” — a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — and burning tires, the videos showed.

Online video of the prison fire appeared to point out projectiles being launched into the prison’s area by security forces, followed by the sound of not less than two explosions. It wasn’t immediately clear what type of rounds Iranian security forces utilized in the incident.

Witnesses said that police blocked roads and highways to Evin and that not less than three strong explosions were heard coming from the realm. Traffic was heavy along major freeways near the prison, which is within the north of the capital, and plenty of people honked to point out their solidarity with protests.

Riot police were seen riding on motorbikes toward the ability, as were ambulances and firetrucks. Witnesses reported that the web was blocked in the realm.

The prison fire occurred as protesters intensified anti-government demonstrations along important streets and at universities in some cities across Iran on Saturday. Human rights monitors reported tons of dead, including children, because 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.

On Sunday, Iran’s Parliament published an announcement claiming that Amini didn’t die from any physical blow but that she fell and police waited too long to get treatment for her. Amini’s family rejected an official coroner’s report that also claimed she didn’t die from any physical blows or beating.

President Joe Biden, on a visit to Oregon, said the Iranian “government is so oppressive” and that he had an “enormous amount of respect for people marching within the streets.”

Evin Prison, which holds detainees facing security-related charges and includes dual residents, has been charged by rights groups with abusing inmates. The ability has long been known for holding political prisoners in addition to those with ties to the West who’ve been utilized by Iran as bargaining chips in international negotiations.

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