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At least four killed in fire at Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, amid anti-government protests

At least four people were killed and 61 injured after a large fire broke out at a notorious prison housing political prisoners and anti-government activists in Iran‘s capital, state-run news agency IRNA reported Sunday, citing the country’s judiciary.

As nationwide anti-government protests triggered by the death of a young woman after police took her into custody, entered a fifth week, one of several videos published to Twitter showed large flames and plumes of smoke rising from Tehran’s Evin Prison.

In another video shot outside the facility, gunshots and screams can be heard coming from inside the facility which is also know to hold foreign citizens.

Both videos have been verified by NBC News.

Citing Iran’s judiciary, IRNA reported that the blaze started after some inmates set fire to prison uniforms at a warehouse and said that there were “skirmishes” between prisoners and staff.

The agency added that four people had died from smoke inhalation and 61 were injured. Four of the injured were in critical condition in hospital.

NBC News cannot verify these reports.

Damage caused by a fire outside Evin Prison in Tehran, Iran
Damage caused by a fire at the Evin Prison in Tehran, Iran late Saturday. IRNA via AP

Sunday marks a month since the death of Mahsa Amini in morality police custody, which sparked nationwide protests, led mainly by women, strikes and a violent crackdown by Iran’s security forces.

Amini, 22, from Iran’s Kurdistan region, died in custody after she was detained last month in Tehran, for allegedly failing to fully cover her hair and defying the country’s strict dress codes. Three days later, she was dead. 

Police said Amini died after falling ill and slipping into a coma, but her family have said that witnesses told them she had been beaten by officers and have complained about the way investigations into her death have been conducted.

However, a coroner’s report released earlier this month by the Iranian Legal Medical Organization, which describes itself as independent but is part of the country’s judiciary, said that Amini died from multiple organ failure, caused by an underlying disease.

The demonstrations since her death have posed one of the most serious challenges to the Iranian government since the 1979 revolution, with some people chanting slogans against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi.

Iranian state media has reported that at least 60 people have died since the beginning of the protests in Iran. However, human rights organizations believe the number is likely much higher.

Iran’s government has blamed what it calls “foreign enemies” for stoking the unrest.

A State Department spokesperson told NBC News late Saturday that the U.S. was “closely monitoring the concerning situation at Iran’s Evin prison and the danger it poses to its many detainees.”

“Our priority is the safety of U.S. citizens wrongfully detained in Iran. Their safety and rights must be ensured,” the statement said.

In 2018 the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Evin prison for what it called “serious human rights abuses.” The Treasury Department website says prisoners held at Evin Prison are subject to “brutal tactics inflicted by prison authorities, including sexual assaults, physical assaults, and electric shock.”

A lawyer representing an American Iranian held at Evin, Siamak Namazi, imprisoned for nearly seven years on espionage-related charges rejected by the White House as baseless, said on Sunday that his client had contacted his relatives.

“I am pleased to report that #SiamakNamazi has now spoken to his family. He is safe and has been moved to a secure area of Evin Prison. We have no further details at this time,” Jared Genser said on Twitter.

Several other dual national Iranians and foreign citizens are held in Evin prison. The facility has long been known for holding political prisoners as well as those with ties to the West.

During a campaign trip to Portland, Oregon, President Joe Biden addressed the unrest in Iran and said he was surprised by “the courage of people and women taking (to) the street” in the recent protests and had enormous respect for them. “It’s been really amazing,” he said.

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