Iran Says Four Die In Prison Unrest, Rebukes Biden For Backing Protesters

By RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Four people were killed in a blaze at a notorious prison in the Iranian capital that houses political prisoners and anti-government protesters, the Iranian judiciary said on October 16.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi accused his U.S. counterpart of inciting chaos after President Joe Biden for voicing support for the protests that have rocked Iran since a young woman was killed in police custody.

Flames and smoke rising from Tehran's Evin prison had been widely visible in the evening on October 15, as nationwide anti-government protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini entered a fifth week. In online videos, gunshots and explosions could be heard in the area of the prison.

State media originally reported nine people were injured but the judiciary website on October 16 said four inmates died of smoke inhalation and 61 others were injured. It said all four who died were in prison on robbery convictions.

Mizan added that 10 inmates were hospitalized, with four in serious condition. Some prisoners had tried to escape but failed, the website said.

A reporter from Radio Farda was told a riot began on October 15 in Ward 7 of the prison, which is famous for holding political prisoners and was blacklisted by the U.S. government in 2018 for being a place with "serious rights abuses." The ward is next to another area where those detained during the unrest over the death of Amini are being held.

On October 16, state-run TV aired video of what it said was the fire's aftermath, showing scorched walls and ceilings in a room it said was the upper floor of a sewing workshop at the prison.

Tehran Governor Mohsen Mansouri said the fire was caused by a "fight between some prisoners in a sewing workshop."

But many Iranian social media posts challenged state media claims over the cause of the fire and apparent explosions at the prison.

The European Union's top diplomat Josep Borrell expressed the "most serious concern" and called for "maximum transparency on the situation" following the prison blaze.

Borrell said in a tweet on October 16 that Iranian authorities are responsible for the lives of "all detainees, including human rights defenders and EU nationals.”

Some prisoners had called their families on October 16, relatives and lawyers said.

Prominent filmmaker Jafar Panahi on October 16 managed to call his wife from Evin to let her know that he and fellow filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof are fine and that authorities had used tear gas during the unrest, Radio Farda reported.

A lawyer representing Siamak Namazi, an American-Iranian held at Evin said on October 16 that Namazi had contacted his family.

Namazi "is safe and has been moved to a secure area of Evin prison," lawyer Jared Genser said in a tweet.

Namazi has been sentenced for more seven years on espionage-related charges rejected by Washington as baseless.

Several other dual-national Iranians and foreign citizens are held in Evin prison mostly for dubious security-related charges.

Families of inmates gathered on October 16 near the prison hoping for news of their loved ones inside.

Former inmate of Evin and rights activist Atena Daemi said relatives of prisoners in the women's section had gone to Evin for visiting hours, but authorities denied them access, resulting in a standoff.

According to Daemi, the relatives were told that prisoners were "fine, but the phones are broken."

Protests Continue

Speaking in the western U.S. state of Oregon on October 15, Biden said he was surprised by the courage of the people taking to the streets in protest in Iran.

Biden said the Iranian "government is so oppressive" and that he had an "enormous amount of respect for people marching in the streets."

Tehran said the remarks amounted to interference in Iran’s internal affairs.

Raisi accused Biden of "inciting chaos, terror, and the destruction of another country."

"The enemy's plot must be countered by effective measures to resolve people's problems," Raisi added, according to a presidency statement released on October 16.

Iran has been rocked by nationwide protests -- one of the most serious challenges to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution -- sparked by Mahsa Amini's death on September 16.

The 22-year-old Amini was detained by morality police for "inappropriate attire" with regard to her headscarf, or hijab. Eyewitnesses say Amini, who comes from the country's Kurdish region, was beaten while in custody, but the authorities gave the official cause of death as "underlying diseases."

On October 16, Iran's parliament published a statement claiming Amini did not die from any physical blow but that she fell and police waited too long to get treatment for her. It urged police to offer an apology and provide more training to its staff. It suggested police wear cameras on their uniforms and install them in cars used to transfer detainees.

Human rights organizations have said at least 201 people have been killed in the crackdown by security forces.

The unrest has continued despite what Amnesty International called an "unrelenting brutal crackdown" that included an "all-out attack on child protesters" -- leading to the deaths of at least 23 minors.

Demonstrations took place at several universities on October 16, including in the cities of Tabriz and Rasht. Riot police were deployed nearby.

Videos posted on social media purportedly showed students at a Tehran university chanting: "Iran has turned into a big prison. Evin prison has become a slaughterhouse."

The authenticity of the footage cannot be independently verified.

The Iranian authorities’ repressive response to the protesters has drawn international condemnation and sanctions on Iran from Britain, Canada and the United States.

With reporting by IRNA, Reuters, AFP, and AP