Tehran, Iran – Four more inmates who were in critical condition after a fire in Tehran’s Evin prison have died, bringing the death toll to eight in what Iran has described as a prison break attempt.
Authorities said the first four inmates died of inhaling fumes from the massive fire on Saturday night, but a statement by the judiciary on Monday did not clarify the cause of death for the other four, saying they were “injured after fighting among prisoners and the fire”.
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All eight deceased inmates were imprisoned for theft-related crimes, according to the judiciary, which said families had been informed but did not disclose the identities of the individuals. Its statement also said 70 inmates were rescued and six more remain hospitalised, but in stable condition and improving.
The Evin prison, which has been repeatedly criticised by Western governments and rights groups and blacklisted by the United States government in 2018 for “serious human rights abuses”, is where many political and security prisoners, including dual nationals, are held.
But the fire that broke out Saturday did not directly affect the wings in which political prisoners were held, according to the authorities and families of some of the inmates who received calls from them.
According to a state television report on Sunday, the cause of the incident was a prison break that led to fighting among prisoners and eventually the fire. It spoke to several prisoners – with blurred faces – who said inmates faked an injury to break out of their ward.
State television showed the charred remains of a room it said was a “sewing workshop” torched by inmates who reportedly wanted to make a six-metre (20-foot) jump from its roof to make their escape but were apprehended after security forces entered the prison.
In several videos captured by people living around the prison in northern Tehran, sounds of gunfire and several explosions could be heard as the fire and smoke raged on.
Local media initially reported that some of the prisoners had escaped and walked into minefields around the prison but later rejected that possibility, saying nobody had escaped.
The European Union and the US said they were closely watching developments concerning the prison and called on Tehran to ensure the safety of the prisoners.
“Iranian authorities responsible for lives of all detainees, including human rights defenders and EU nationals,” tweeted Josep Borrell, the bloc’s foreign policy chief, on Sunday. “We expect maximum transparency on the situation”.
The fire at Evin happened at the start of a fifth week of consecutive unrest across the country after protests erupted over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody. The young woman from Iran’s Kurdistan province had been arrested by the country’s morality police for improper hijab in Tehran.
There were sporadic protests on Sunday and videos continue to emerge on social media, but the pace had slowed as stricter internet restrictions appeared to be imposed late Sunday, almost entirely throttling access to virtual private networks (VPNs) that citizens use to circumvent restrictions.