A large fired blazed at Iran’s notorious Evin Prison in Tehran on Saturday night, leaving family and friends of prisoners being held with a lot of concern, but very little clarity.
“I’m extremely worried,” Gazelle Sharmahd, daughter of Jamshid Sharmahd, told ALL ARAB NEWS. “Evin prison is up in flames. My father may be one of the political prisoners who is held hostage there, so just watching social media and news and hoping to see some answers.”
Sharmahd – kidnapped by Iranian operatives in Dubai and ferried into Iran more than two years ago – is one of hundreds of prisoners whose fate is unknown after the fire erupted at Evin Prison on Saturday night. The cause of the fire is unclear.
The prison is infamous for confining political activists, journalists and protesters – many presumed innocent and wrongfully detained.
U.S. State Department Spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. is “following reports from Evin Prison with urgency.”
“We are in contact with the Swiss as our protecting power. Iran is fully responsible for the safety of our wrongfully detained citizens, who should be released immediately,” he said in a statement.
According to reports on Twitter, shots and explosions accompanied the fire which could be seen from around the city. Chants of “Death to the dictator” are heard in various videos.
It is unclear whether the fire was accidental, set intentionally by the regime or ignited during protests which have entered their fifth week in Iran. Protests have spread across the country since the Sept. 22 death of Mahsa Amini – a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman who died while in custody of the Morality Police after her arrest for not properly wearing her head scarf.
Since then, women-led demonstrations have galvanized students in universities and high schools who are chanting death to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The Islamic regime has shut off internet access, preventing little news from getting out of the country, while also quashing the protests with live fire directed at demonstrators. So far more than 200 people have been killed, according to rights groups
“The responsibility for any loss of life in this fire at Evin prison lies with Ali Khamenei and his evil regime,” Reza Pahlavi, the oldest son of the last shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, said on Twitter. “Some of Iran’s brightest minds and bravest hearts are unjustly held at Evin. We will hold Khamenei and his regime accountable for any harm to any and all of them.”
Another Iranian exile, activist Masih Alinejad, called on foreign governments to take action against Iran, noting that innocent prisoners such as Sharmahd are dual citizens and are now in danger.
“All Western countries whose citizens are in Evin prison must immediately call out Islamic Republic and make them accountable. Citizens from U.K., U.S., Sweden, Germany, France, Belgium and other countries are held at Evin. The lives of many Iranian prisoners is in danger,” she wrote on Twitter.
The Center for Human Rights said that shots were first heard in Ward 7 of Evin Prison – the section that houses inmates convicted for financial crimes – but spread.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-affiliated Tasnim news agency and other Iranian state-run outlets indicated that the fire began with a protest, but those reports could not be confirmed.
Iran said that support for protestors expressed by U.S. President Joe Biden in recent days will be treated as foreign interference.
“In recent days, the U.S. government and officials have tried desperately to inflame unrest in Iran under various excuses and in any way they can, and have supported the riots in our country and the creation of violence,” the semi-official ISNA news agency quoted Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanaani as saying.
Protests in 2019 were met with violence by Iranian police and led to thousands of arrests and later hundreds of executions.