DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s judiciary raised the death toll Monday from a fire at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, saying at least eight inmates were killed as protests continued across the country.
Details remain scarce about the fire at Evin prison, which broke out on Saturday night as nationwide anti-government protests sparked by the death of a young woman in police custody entered its fifth week.
The Mizan Justice News Agency offered a new toll, saying the prisoners succumbed to injuries sustained on Sunday from the incident.
All the dead were said to be held on charges of theft. Mizan described the incident as a “fight between prisoners and fire,” although he offered no evidence to support that claim. Activists outside Iran say they remain skeptical of the Iranian government’s claims, particularly because their recent descriptions of protests across the country differed drastically from those on the ground.
Flames and thick smoke rising from Tehran’s Evin prison were visible from far and wide on Saturday night. In videos online, gunshots and explosions could be heard on the prison grounds.
The fire was extinguished after several hours and no prisoners escaped, state media reported.
Authorities tried to distance the events at the prison from the ongoing protests, while state media offered conflicting accounts of the violence. Hundreds are in Evin, where human rights groups have reported repeated abuse of prisoners.
The protests erupted after public outcry over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody. She was arrested by Iran’s morality police in Tehran for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code. The Iranian government insists Amini was not mistreated in police custody, but her family says her body showed bruises and other signs of beatings after she was detained.
President Joe Biden, on a weekend trip to Oregon, said Iran’s “government is so oppressive” and that he has “a tremendous amount of respect for the people marching in the streets.”
Evin prison, where inmates face security-related charges and includes dual nationals, has been accused by rights groups of inmate abuse. The facility has long been known for holding political prisoners as well as those with ties to the West that Iran has used as bargaining chips in international negotiations.