At least eight people were killed and dozens more were injured after a large fire broke out at a notorious prison housing political prisoners and anti-government activists in Iran's capital, Tehran, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported Monday, citing the country's judiciary.
In the fifth week of nationwide anti-government protests triggered by the death of a young woman in police custody, one of several videos published to Twitter showed large flames and plumes of smoke rising from Tehran’s Evin Prison.
In another video shot outside the facility, gunshots and screams can be heard coming from inside the facility, which is also known to hold foreign citizens.
NBC News has verified both videos.
Citing Iran's judiciary, IRNA reported that the blaze started after inmates set fire to prison uniforms at a warehouse and that there were “skirmishes” between prisoners and staff members.
The agency added that four people had died from smoke inhalation and that 61 others were injured. Four people were in critical condition. It was later reported that another four of those who had been injured had died, according to Tasnim.
NBC News could not verify those reports.
Sunday marks a month since the death of Mahsa Amini in morality police custody, which sparked nationwide protests, led mainly by women, strikes and a violent crackdown by Iran’s security forces.
Amini, 22, from Iran’s Kurdistan region, died in custody after she was detained last month in Tehran and accused of failing to fully cover her hair and defying the country’s strict dress codes. Three days later, she was dead.
Police said Amini died after she fell ill and slipped into a coma, but her family has said witnesses told them she was beaten by officers, and it has complained about the way her death has been investigated.
A coroner's report released this month by the Iranian Legal Medical Organization, which describes itself as independent but is part of the country’s judiciary, said Amini died from multiple organ failure, caused by an underlying disease.
The demonstrations since her death have posed one of the most serious challenges to the Iranian government since the 1979 revolution, with some people chanting slogans against the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and President Ebrahim Raisi.
State media has reported that at least 60 people have died since the protests began. Human rights organizations believe the number is likely to be much higher.
The government has blamed what it calls “foreign enemies” for stoking the unrest.
A State Department spokesperson said late Saturday that the U.S. is “closely monitoring the concerning situation at Iran’s Evin prison and the danger it poses to its many detainees.”
“Our priority is the safety of U.S. citizens wrongfully detained in Iran. Their safety and rights must be ensured,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
In 2018 the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Evin prison for what it called “serious human rights abuses.” The Treasury Department website says prisoners held at Evin Prison are subject to “brutal tactics inflicted by prison authorities, including sexual assaults, physical assaults, and electric shock.”
A lawyer representing an American Iranian held at Evin, Siamak Namazi, who was imprisoned for nearly seven years on espionage-related charges the White House rejects as baseless, said Sunday that Namazi had contacted his relatives.
“I am pleased to report that #SiamakNamazi has now spoken to his family. He is safe and has been moved to a secure area of Evin Prison. We have no further details at this time,” Jared Genser said on Twitter.
Several other dual national Iranians and foreign citizens are held in Evin prison. The facility has long been known for holding political prisoners, as well as those with ties to the West.
During a campaign trip to Portland, Oregon, President Joe Biden addressed the unrest in Iran, saying he was surprised by “the courage of people and women taking the street” in the recent protests and that he had enormous respect for them. “It’s been really amazing,” he said.