At least eight prisoners were killed and dozens injured in the Evin prison fire in Iran on the night of October 15. It remains unclear how the fire started and whether the prison incident was linked to the wave of protests in the country.
“We heard more than 200 shots,” a witness inside the prison known to house political prisoners told BBC Persian.
A video of the prison, posted on social media over the weekend, went viral in the country. In it you can see flames and smoke. He also heard gunshots and explosions.
“I am concerned that the source of the fire is still a big question mark,” says Anna Diamond, a former prisoner who spent more than 200 days in solitary confinement in the notorious Tehran prison in 2016.
Anna Diamond, a British-Iranian, was just 21 years old when armed officers of the United States Revolutionary Guards forced her into a truck. Will She was arrested in January 2016. She was accused of spying, which she denied.
But how was the situation inside the prison?
“Even is a maze,” says Diamond.
After Anna was released on bail in August 2016, Anna was taken from prison through narrow corridors.
“Then all of a sudden, a door opened and I was in Tehran. All it took was one door to put me in the middle of the city,” Diamond recalls.
The prison was originally built on the outskirts of the Iranian capital, but as the city grew, the prison became part of the bustling north of Tehran.
“Violation of human rights”
Evin Prison was built in 1972 during the reign of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Its initial purpose was to house more than 300 prisoners, but the prison population eventually rose to 15,000 under the Islamic Republic of Islam. Will.
In the 1980s, Evin Prison had a notorious reputation. According to Amnesty International reports and accounts compiled by the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch, torture, killings, executions, hangings, the disappearance of many political detainees, and brutality were common practices there.
The prison has been dubbed “Evin University” because of the large number of intellectuals, student activists and journalists detained there.
Human rights groups have criticized practices in prisons; The organization that runs prisons in Tehran and its leader Sohrab Soleimani (brother of General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by the United States in 2020), was included in 2018, on the list of people and institutions that suffer from sanctions imposed by the US government in 2018, due to “grave violations of human rights”.
Amnesty International said last year that leaked surveillance footage from the prison showed prisoners being mistreated, beaten and harassed.
Anna Diamond says her body will never forget the cold she felt when she was trapped.
“When I’m in a cold place today, my heart is racing and I need to get outside. Even though my mind is calm, my body doesn’t like to feel that sensation.”
But the cold isn’t the worst thing she’s experienced in Evin.
“They were trying to humiliate me in very gender-specific ways,” Diamond says.
Anna Diamond says she was also forced to take a so-called virginity test.
It is a test in which a doctor inserts two fingers into a woman’s vagina to ensure the integrity of the hymen. The test has no scientific basis.
A fire broke out in part of Evin Prison on October 15 – Image: Getty Images via BBC
“My initial sentence, when I was convicted of espionage and when they suggested I used intimacy or seduction during my alleged espionage work, was the death penalty,” explains Diamond.
She now believes this was “part of their long and detailed psychological torture”. “It was a way to humiliate myself in very gender-specific ways,” she says.
“It was just a mechanism to reduce my identity and experiences to what they might define as insulting, shameful, even criminal, and instill fear in me for what they might be able to do next,” Diamond says.
After spending months in solitary confinement, Anna Diamond was taken to the general infirmary where she met other women who were political prisoners.
She remembers how crowded the infirmary was.
“If hundreds of protesters are now arrested and some are taken to Evin, I suppose many of them will have to sleep on the floor.”
“I can’t imagine what prisoners are going through right now,” Diamond says.
What happened Saturday night?
The fire came on the night of October 15 after weeks of anti-government protests across Will After 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in police custody.
Hundreds of protesters were sent to Evin Prison.
“The prison was like a war zone,” a source close to one of the prisoners’ family told BBC Persian Service, describing what happened inside the prison walls.
But there are conflicting accounts of the accident.
The country’s justice says the fire broke out in a prison workshop after a quarrel between prisoners, and according to state media, it was a “premeditated” escape plan, which the head of prisons in Tehran said was thwarted by security forces.
It’s hard to know exactly what happened that night.
But in an interview with the BBC’s Persian Service, a prisoner denied the official account and said the tension started when some prisoners protested the transfer of their prison colleagues to another prison.
When the prisoners from the other wings heard the fighting and screaming, they stormed the main courtyard. The detainee added that the guards responded with tear gas.
Then the tension escalated to the other wings.
“The prisoners ran to the doors and knocked them on the ground. Riot guards attacked and threw tear gas from everywhere. Many of us got sick.”
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