aftermath of Iran prison fire

This image obtained from the Iranian news agency IRNA on October 16, 2022 shows damage caused by a fire outside the building of the Evin prison, in the northwest of the capital, Tehran. The unrest at the facility came as Iran has been rocked by protests since Mahsa Amini's death in September 16. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)

Revolt at Notorious Facility That Holds Political Prisoners as Iran Protests Enter 5th Week

Demonstrations were also held by youth in Tehran, Ardabil, Kermanshah, Hamadan, Rasht, Karaj, Isfahan, and several cities in Iranian Kurdistan.

Dubai-based Al-Arabiya assembles tweets from Iran about the prisoner uprising at Iran's maximum-security prison, Evin, which led to the outbreak of a major fire on Saturday. The facility holds political prisoners, including foreigners. Interrogations there have routinely involved torture.

Despite government claims that the fire had been extinguished on Saturday evening, it went on burning into early Sunday morning according to the videos. Family members of the prisoners were frantic with worry over their safety.

The pro-government Iranian Students News Service reports that the prisoner uprising began at an entrepreneurship workshop being offered to inmates guilty of embezzlement and other forms of theft. They appear to have attacked their guards. There was also a workshop on tailoring going on in the financial crimes block, and somehow in the midst of the melee a fire broke out there in the piles of cloth.

We cannot, of course, accept the accounts of such pro-government sites at face value. It may be that they wanted to stress that embezzlers and thieves, rather than political prisoners, were behind the fire in order to make the rioters less sympathetic to Iranians.

On the Iranian Twitter feeds, many posters brought up the possibility that the government had itself set the fire at the prison. They compared it to an infamous movie theater fire in 1978 that people became convinced was the work of Mohammad Reza Shah's secret police, in an attempt to blame it on the protesters then criticizing the shah's government.

Other reports say that the inmates deliberately set the fire in a place where spare uniforms were stored.

A major battle between inmates and security forces appears to have raged into the night. In the videos posted online of the fire, gunfire and explosions can clearly be heard.

Meanwhile, crowds gathered in Tehran streets, chanting "Death to the dictator!"-- a reference to the country's clerical leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Authorities claimed to have put out the fire by Sunday morning.

The prominent inmates of Evin include acclaimed film directer Jafar Panahi:

The Saudi-backed Iran Internationalreports that videos posted to the internet show that on Saturday demonstrations were staged, as well, by youth in Tehran, Ardabil, Kermanshah, Hamadan, Rasht, Karaj, Isfahan, and several cities in Iranian Kurdistan.

VOA reports that "In the city of Sanandaj, a hotspot for demonstrations in the northern Kurdish region, schoolgirls chanted, 'Woman, life, freedom,' down a central street."

© 2023 Juan Cole