Heightened Dangers Demand Renewed Struggle to Free Iran’s Political Prisoners
“That night, we were witnessing the prison turning into something like a war zone. The security and military forces had put the prison wards under siege from ground and from rooftops... Hundreds of rounds of bullets were fired and there were horrendous explosions... We could hear people who were around Evin [outside] Their chanting of slogans was reaching us. We were also screaming "Death to the Dictator", "Death toTyranny", "Murderer, Stop Murdering", "Despicable, StopStriking Prisoners"!” ~@Narges_Mohammadi_51, Instagram
On Saturday October 15, a huge fire erupted in Evin Prison in Tehran, amidst sounds of gunfire and explosions. Hundreds of prisoners’ family members and supporters gathered outside the notorious prison and in nearby streets, banging on the doors, chanting denunciations of the regime. Highways and streets leading to the prison were choked with honking cars, which came under tear gas attack by regime forces.
When the dust settled early Sunday, parts of Evin had been reduced to charred, burnt-out wreckage. The regime claims eight prisoners died and 61were injured due to smoke inhalation. Families and news sources report greater casualties, which include the deaths of prisoners who were shot or severely beaten and/or denied adequate medical care.
The Islamic regime’s state media continues to claim that the fire was unrelated to the ongoing protests rocking Iran. It blames the prisoners, alleging that the fire was set by common (i.e. nonpolitical) prisoners in Ward 7 as part of a fight among them, which then spread to a large textile workshop and engulfed it in flames. The regime later claimed that security forces were reacting to a “premeditated” escape plan by prisoners.
Damning Evidence Comes to Light
The full story of what happened that deadly night has not yet been pieced together. However, in the weeks since the fire, damning evidence has emerged from many sources, including interviews with prisoners in Evin, investigations by Amnesty International, and an extensive forensic examination of audio and video footage by the Washington Post.
These reports poked holes in the Islamic regime’s story and point to the possibility that the fire, death and destruction were the result of a massive and pre-planned assault against the prisoners using the pretext of a “fight among common prisoners.” The regime’s goal may well have been to silence Iran’s courageous and influential political prisoners, including the many dual nationals, artists, intellectuals, and newly imprisoned protesters at Evin, but also to send a threatening message to protesters in the streets.
Amnesty International reported that the sounds of gunshots and screaming in Ward 7 could be heard by prisoners in neighboring wards as early as 8 p.m. and that “authorities sought to justify their bloody crackdown on prisoners under the guise of battling the fire.” The sewing workshop is typically closed around 5:00 PM after the evening head count. Prisoners are then routinely locked in their cells, hours before the flames were first spotted around 10:00 PM.
Analysis of videos by The Washington Post’s forensic team confirmed that three people were filmed throwing what seemed to be flammable liquid on the roof over Ward 7, unimpeded by guards in their towers. They concluded that “findings are damning: At least one fire that night appears to have been started intentionally at a time when prisoners are locked in their cells. The most deadly fire erupted near the scene of the arson. As prisoners tried to flee the fire, guards and other security forces assaulted them with batons, live ammunition, metal pellets and explosives.”
Evidence of Planning and Preparations by Prison Authorities Before the Fire
• Three days before the fire, the ward’s fire extinguishers capsules were removed on orders of the head of the prison, with the excuse that they needed to be refilled.
• Several prisoners connected to Iran’s ruling figures were furloughed in the days before and until after the fire, such as Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani, the son of a former president. He was housed in Ward 7 and usually furloughed Wednesday through Friday. He was sent home early, and told not to return until after Saturday October 15.
• On the day before the fire, prisoners reported seeing special 24-hour anti-riot guards being transported into Evin where they marched through the wards, banging on doors, chanting “God is great,”as snipers were positioned on the roof. Some also reported that at noon on October 15, “The prison alarm sounded, which was unprecedented. We started seeing new batons and handcuffs coming in, and guards were placed on 24-hour watch. This was all in preparation for the crackdown.”
True Toll of Prisoners Killed or Injured is Still Unknown
Radio Zamaneh had broadcast this chilling account by one or more political prisoners:
“…Ward 7, which he claims held 1,700 to 1,800 prisoners that night, has been evacuated: ‘We have no idea where they took them.’ The source whose voice reached Zamaneh from Evin stated that the number of people killed from Ward 7 is very high, much more than that expressed by the narrative of the Islamic Republic.”
“One of the prisoners even said that some prisoners were being directly shot at. There was shooting towards the windows of the rooms. Yesterday, they came and removed the bullets from the pipes and the walls. The windows were completely shot out, it was a strange scene.”
It is likely that the toll could have been much higher had it not been for peoples’ immediate and massive resistance, both inside and outside the prison walls. Prisoners in Ward 8 and Ward 7 broke down the door between their wards to escape the smoke and try to help each other, all the while chanting slogans as they were being assaulted by guards.
As former political prisoner Atena Daemi tweeted, "I found out the [non-political] prisoners in Ward 7, who were always described as dangerous, when they managed to break their door, they went to Ward 8 to save the prisoners but were immediately shot at! [by guards].”
Prisoners in different wards kept up constant chanting, standing against the authorities’ attempts to massacre them under cover of “intra-prisoner conflicts.” And the immediate mobilization of supporters outside the prison, plus the word of the outrage spread in real time on social media, focused considerable attention and condemnation on prison authorities.
Since late September, over 14,000 protesters have been arrested, many of whom have been sent to Evin. This massive fire at Evin throws a spotlight on the growing danger to prisoners in Iran’s dungeons, especially its political prisoners.
As IranWire.com noted, “The fire at one of Tehran’s most heavily guarded facilities potentially raises the stakes for those continuing to rally against the government and the mandatory wearing of the hijab, following the death of Mahsa Amini last month.”
All this highlights the need to continue to expose the recent fire and assault at Evin prison , and to answer the call from Burn the Cage/Free the Birds campaign in Europe, joined by the International Emergency Campaign based in the U.S., to broaden and deepen the struggle to free Iran’s political prisoners both inside Iran and worldwide.
Sources and Notes
Accounts from political prisoners:
· Oct 23, 2022 Statement, cited by activists in Iran, is drawn from the Instagramaccount of rights activist Narges Mohammadi, with 133K followers. She is imprisoned in the women’s ward in Evinbefore, during and since the fire.
· Radio Zameneh, Zameneh Media, radiozameneh.com: A Report from Evin Prison: The Ministry of Intelligence has Taken Control Over the Prison in Efforts of Fabricating a Case”, Oct. 21, 2022. A Report on Evin's Wounded prisoners: "Get used to the pellets," Oct. 28, 2022 (radiozamaneh.com)
· Interview with Atena Daemi, former political prisoner and human rights activist in Iran, “Exclusive: Deadly Iran jail fire erupted as police clashed with inmates,”Reuters, October20, 2022.
· “Cover Up, What Do We Know About Evin Prison Fire,” IranWire, October, 2022. According to their sources inside Evin prison, 11 of the prisoners injured in ward 8 are political prisoners. Theseinmates are: Mohammed Khani, Javad Sidi, Siros Qercha, Sephar Imam Juma, RezaQalandari, Mehdi Vafaei, MeysamDehbanzadeh, Ayoub Harari, Mehran Karimi, Yashar Tawhidi and Parsa Golshani.
Investigative reports from major media:
· Evin on fire: What really happened inside Iran’s most notorious prison, Washington Post,October 25, 2022;
· “Iran: Tortured Prisoners at Evin Prison Are in Urgent Need of International Protection,” Amnesty International, October 18, 2022;
· “Exclusive: Deadly Iran jail fire erupted as police clashed with inmates,” Reuters,October 20, 2022;
· “Authorities said on Saturday that a prison workshop had been set on fire"after a fight among a number of prisoners convicted of financial crimes and theft". Reuters, October 16,2022:
· “Protest, Chants, a Riot and Gunshots: How a Prison Fire Unfolded in Iran,” New York Times, October 21, 2022.
· "Death Toll Rises to 13 Following Fire and Riots at Evin Prison," IranWire,October 18.2022.
· Originally built in 1972 by the Shah of Iran, a murderous US puppet, specifically to torture and punish political activists, Evin Prison was taken over and expanded by the Islamic Republic of Iran when it took power after the revolution which overthrew the Shah in 1979.Today the name of huge facility outside the capital, Tehran, is synonymous with torture and mass executions, and houses thousands of prisoners, including many political prisoners, as well as dual national prisoners. The prison, with its own execution yard and courtroom, abuts the foothills of the scenic Ablorz Mountains and well-to-do neighborhoods of Northern Tehran.
· "Fire,Explosions and Gunshots at Iran’s Evin Prison - Prisoners’ Blood on Hands of the Islamic Republic," revcom.us, October 17, 2022 and "Massacre at Evin Prison, in Iran update...Powerful Nationwide Resistance in Iran Continues in the Face of Murderous Government Repression," revcom.us, October24, 2022