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Iranian officials say prison fire in Tehran has been extinguished

CAIRO – A towering fire at an infamous prison of political prisoners and anti-government activists in the Iranian capital has injured at least nine people, but was extinguished after hours and not a single detainee escaped, state media said on Sunday.

Flames and smoke billowing from Evin prison in Tehran were all over Saturday night as nationwide anti-government protests triggered by the death of a young woman in police custody entered a fifth week. Gunshots and explosions were heard near the prison in online videos.

State media said the fire broke out after a fight between inmates, in an apparent attempt to distance events there from the ongoing protests. Hundreds are being held in Evin, where human rights groups have repeatedly reported abuse of prisoners.

State TV broadcast a video of the fire’s aftermath on Sunday, showing the scorched walls and ceilings in a room that was reportedly the top floor of a prison sewing studio.

“This fire was caused by a fight between some inmates in a sewing workshop,” Tehran Governor Mohsen Mansouri said. “The workshop was set up to create jobs” for inmates, he said.

The state-run IRNA news agency reported on Saturday that there were clashes between inmates in a ward and prison staff, citing a senior security official. The official said inmates set fire to a warehouse full of prison uniforms, which started the fire. He said the “rioters” were separated from the other inmates to de-escalate the conflict.

The official said the “situation is fully under control” and firefighters were putting out the flames. Tehran’s prosecutor, Ali Salehi, later said calm had returned to the prison and the unrest had nothing to do with the protests that had ravaged the country for four weeks.

IRNA later reported that nine people had been injured, with no further details. It published a video of burnt debris scattered across a building as firefighters spray the embers from the blaze.

The US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran reported that an “armed conflict” broke out within the prison walls. It said gunshots were heard for the first time in ward 7 of the prison. This account could not be confirmed immediately.

Footage of the fire is circulating online. Videos showed shots going off as plumes of smoke rose into the air amid the sound of an alarm. Shortly afterwards, a protest broke out in the streets, with many saying “Death to the dictator!” chanted. — a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — and burning tires, the videos showed.

Witnesses said police blocked roads and highways to Evin and that at least three strong explosions came from the area. There was heavy traffic along the major highways near the prison, which is in the north of the capital, and many people honked their horns to show solidarity with the protests.

Riot police were seen on motorcycles heading towards the facility, as well as ambulances and fire trucks. Witnesses reported that the internet was blocked in the area.

The prison fire took place as protesters staged anti-government demonstrations on Saturday’s main streets and at universities in some cities across Iran. Human rights monitors reported hundreds of deaths, including children, by the end of the fourth week of the movement.

The protests broke out after public outcry over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody. She was arrested by Iran’s vice squad in Tehran for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.

On a trip to Oregon, President Joe Biden said Iran’s “government is so oppressive” and that he had a “huge amount of respect for people marching in the streets.”

Evin Prison, which holds detainees charged with security-related charges and includes dual citizens, has been charged by human rights groups for abusing prisoners. The facility has long been known for holding political prisoners and those with ties to the West who have been used by Iran as bargaining chips in international negotiations.

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