Details of a chaotic night marked by tear gas and explosions have emerged from an Iranian prison after a deadly fire at the facility on Saturday.
At least four inmates died of smoke inhalation and 61 others were injured in a fire at Tehran’s Evin prison that started when inmates set fire to a warehouse, state news agency IRNA reported, citing Iranian authorities.
The notoriously brutal facility is known for housing the country’s political prisoners, which has seen mass protests in recent weeks against the Islamic regime that has ruled for decades.
Award-winning film director Jafar Panahi, 62, who is among the dissidents jailed at Evin, said guards fired tear gas at the prisoners, according to his wife Tahereh Saeedi.
In an interview with Radio Farda – the Iranian branch of the US government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – Saeedi said her husband called her from prison and told her that she and jailed filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof are healthy.
Saeedi said that from the time the fire broke out on Saturday night until she received her husband’s call the next day, it was the worst hours of her life.
Activist group 1500tasvir previously reported that in videos posted on social media, gunshots were heard and Iranian special forces were seen moving towards the area believed to be the prison.
Sources inside the prison told pro-reform outlet IranWire that guards fired tear gas throughout the night after the fire started. In many cases, prisoners had to break windows to breathe, IranWire reported.
In a post on Twitter on Sunday, human rights activist and former Evin prisoner Atena Daemi said security officials fired tear gas, citing a female prisoner.
Prisoners in District 8 have no water, gas or bread and 45 of them were taken to an “undisclosed location” by Daemi. “They are all fine now, but they are worried about being transferred to other prisons, isolation and interrogation.”
Many of the prisoners were taken to Rajaei Shahr prison, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of Tehran, Mostafa Nili, a lawyer representing some of the prisoners, said on Twitter. IranWire video shows a bus transporting prisoners from Evin.
Jailed journalist Niloofar Hamedi is also safe after Saturday’s fire, according to a tweet from her husband Mohamad Hosein.
“He told me he didn’t know what happened last night in Evin, but he heard scary sounds and thought something terrible had happened,” Hosein said his wife told him, adding that he was doing well.
Hossein said that Hamedi is being held in Section 209 of Evin – known for housing prisoners of conscience – and that he had no information about other areas of the prison.
Iranian-American Siamak Namazi, who was detained in Iran for seven years and was forced to return to prison on Wednesday after being released on parole, is also safe, Namazi family lawyer Jared Genser said.
Namazi was taken to a secure area of the jail and has spoken with his family, Genser said.
Speaking earlier to state broadcaster IRIB, Tehran prosecutor Ali Salehi said the prison “conflict” was unrelated to protests across the country following the death of a young woman in police custody.
In September, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died after being arrested by the country’s morality police for not wearing the hijab properly. Iranian authorities have since unleashed a brutal and deadly crackdown on protesters who have aligned themselves with the country’s authoritarian regime over a range of grievances.
“No prisoner is safe in Iran, where people are maimed and killed for criticizing the state,” Hadi Ghaemi, head of the New York-based Independent Center for Human Rights, wrote on Sunday. “Evin and the Iranian political prisoners should be released. All prisoners should have proper medical treatment + access to counsellors/families”.
Ghaemi also called on the United Nations to hold Iran’s leaders accountable, a call echoed by Amnesty International’s secretary-general and former UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard.
A special session of the UN Human Rights Council should be held to create a “UN investigation and accountability mechanism on the Iranian government and religious authorities,” Callamard said in a tweet on Sunday, citing “too many crimes against the Iranian people.”