Since October 15, 2022, and with nationwide protests in Iran reaching new heights, Evin prison, the largest prison for political prisoners and offenses related to “national security” in Iran, has been experiencing heightened security due to a fire as well as unrest among those detained within. The news about what has been going on in this prison has been difficult to confirm.
At 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 15th, the first signs of a fire break out were reported in the wards 7 and 8 of Evin prison, and then the prison phones were cut off. At the same time, when an altercation broke out between the inmates and prison guards, other wards in this prison were put on alert and a sense of normalcy throughout the prison ended abruptly. From around 9 p.m. in the evening, a massive blaze could be seen over this prison, and continuous shooting and blasts were heard by those inside the prison.
Videos recorded by citizen journalists near Evin prison, showing a fire, multiple explosions, and continuous gunfire inside Evin prison, quickly went viral on social media. Many concerned families and protesting citizens gathered near the prison chanting slogans and clashing with the security forces. Their cries reached inside the prison and were heard by the prisoners.
According to the reports received by HRANA, on Saturday, October 15, several prisoners started chanting slogans in support of the nationwide protests in the open-air space within Evin, which caused an altercation between the prison guards and the inmates.
On the night of the incident, in the wards 7 and 8, the clashes escalated and the prison officers, with the help of the special guard, threw dozens of tear gas, and stun grenades, and targeted the defenseless prisoners with shotguns, metal pellets, and live ammunition. It was also reported that tear gas was thrown into other wards, including the women’s ward and ward 4. Then, while transferring hundreds of prisoners to the air-conditioning of the prison, they were beaten and humiliated until dawn while naked. Even on October 16, the condition of Evin prison was reported to be highly tense, even though the fire was brought under control and the clashes subsided. Many of the prisoners had to be transferred to other wards. Authorities could not distribute any food among the inmates under the circumstances. Dozens of political prisoners who were taken out of the affected wards were transferred to Rajai-Shahr prison in Karaj. However, weeks after this incident, there is still no information about the condition of some of the prisoners in custody.
According to the aerial images released after the fire, one of the main buildings of this prison was seriously damaged by the fire. Among the published pictures, people can be seen on the roof of one of the Evin prison wards likely throwing or tear-gassing objects. However, the scope of the Evin prison fire has yet to be fully clarified. From the very early hours, the information provided by Islamic Republic officials on this incident was contradictory. There is yet to be a clear explanation as to the reason behind these blasts and shootings that were seen and heard at Evin.
At first, the judiciary attributed the fire to an altercation between a number of prisoners who had been convicted of “financial crimes and theft” that took place in the “Sewing Workshop” that is used for apprenticeship in Evin. Mohammad Jaafar Montazeri, the country’s Prosecutor General, also claimed that the fire was “planned” and “from inside the prison”. The judiciary also announced the death of eight prisoners who had been convicted of common crimes and the injury of 61 others due to “smoke inhalation”. During the hours and days after the incident, state-run radio and other government media organizations published numerous news reports and attempted to show the situation of Evin prisoners as normal and the damages to this prison as minimal, that is while reliable reports were published regarding the injuries of the prisoners following the clashes and shootings of the security forces; Prisoners who are generally deprived of medical services despite their physical condition.
Hossein Jazi, 21 years old, is the only deceased prisoner whose identity has been verified—the authorities have not yet announced the names of the other fatalities. Some sources have claimed that Mr. Jazi was one of the detainees in the recent protests. However, the Judiciary’s Press Office dismissed this claim and wrote in a statement: “The deceased person is one of the casualties in the Evin prison incident. He died due to smoke inhalation caused by the action of convicted robbers in setting fire to the sewing workshop at Evin prison.” In this statement, it is claimed that Mr. Jazi “has a criminal record of numerous robberies with two previous convictions for crimes of theft” and “basically, the date of arrest of the deceased is July 10, 2022, that is, a few months before the recent riots and from the date of his arrest to this day when the fire broke out, he was in prison without leave.”
Fars News Agency claimed that several prisoners rushed to the northern hills of Evin prison to flee and were killed by treading in the “minefield” and were blown up by the mines. A claim that was later denied by media organizations affiliated with the Islamic Republic, including the Judiciary’s Press Office.
After these events, Amnesty International, in a statement, called for the unfettered access of independent international observers to Iran’s prisons. The foreign ministers of Germany and France, the top foreign policy official of the European Union, the spokesperson of the U.S. State Department, and US President Joe Biden were among the politicians who expressed concern about the situation of Evin prisoners.