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Iran: Evin prison fire was jailbreak attempt, say official media

Explosions heard during incident were inmates entering a minefield, reports Fars, with at least four people said to have been killed
Damage caused by a fire inside the building of the Evin prison (AFP)
Damage caused by a fire inside Tehran's Evin prison (AFP)

The fire at Tehran's Evin prison was caused by a premeditated jailbreak attempt, and the sounds of explosions heard ringing out were inmates caught in a minefield, Iranian media reported on Sunday.

Footage of the fire at the notorious Evin prison, accompanied by sirens and gunfire, circulated on social media on Saturday night as protesters marked a month since demonstrations against Iran's "morality police" and hijab laws broke out.

The incident sparked speculation that the blaze was connected to the protest movement, something denied by the Tehran prosecutor.

"Nothing to do with the recent unrest in the country," the prosecutor told official news agency IRNA

Fars, a news agency linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, reported that the fire was started in a clothing warehouse, and that inmates had prepared weapons which they used to attempt a breakout.

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"In the middle of the fire and the conflict with the security forces, some prisoners tried to escape. They entered the minefield on the north side of the prison, where there is a mountain. It is said that the explosions heard were related to this issue," Fars reported.

According to a judiciary official, four inmates died from smoke inhalation. Sixty-one others were wounded, four of whom were in a "serious condition", he told Mizan Online. The blaze was brought under control on Saturday night.

A view of smoke rising from Evin Prison in Tehran (Reuters)
A view of smoke rising from Evin prison in Tehran (Reuters)

Evin prison holds thousands of people, including political prisoners, duel nationals believed to be used as leverage against western countries, and people convicted of various crimes.

British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was held there for six years before being released in March.

Prominent foreign inmates Evin continues to hold include French-Iranian academic Fariba Abdelkhah and US citizen Siamak Namazi, whose family said last week had been taken back into custody after a temporary release. 

Rights activists quickly raised concern that political prisoners would be caught up in the incident on Saturday. Former Australian prison inmate Kylie Moore Gilbert, held in Evin for more than 800 days before being released in late 2020, told AFP that she had heard that female prisoners were safe. 

Over the past month, women-led protests have raged across Iran after Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, died in police custody. Amini was arrested by Iran's "morality police" over accusations she was incorrectly wearing her hijab.

Human rights groups say more than 200 people have been killed by authorities cracking down on the protests, including teenage girls.

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