Death toll in Iran prison fire rises to at least 8; families of 2 Americans held there say they’re safe

January 22, 2024 0 By JohnValbyNation

Dubai, United Arab Emirates — Iran’s judiciary raised the death toll Monday in a blaze at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, saying at least eight prisoners were killed as protests continue nationwide.

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Details remained scarce over the fire at Evin prison, which broke out Saturday night as nationwide anti-government protests triggered by the death of a young woman in police custody entered a fifth week.

The judiciary’s Mizan news agency offered the new toll, saying the prisoners had succumbed to their injuries Sunday from the incident.

It said all those dead had been held on theft charges. Mizan described the incident as a “fight between inmates and a fire,” though it offered no evidence to support the claim.

Activists outside Iran say they remain skeptical of the Iranian government’s claims, particularly as their recent descriptions of the nationwide protests have drastically differed with those on the ground.

The families of two Americans imprisoned in Evin, Siamak Namazi and Emad Shargi, were both safe as of Sunday morning, CBS News’ Margaret Brennan reports.

Namazi has spoken to his family, according to his attorney, Jared Genser. 

Shargi’s sister and daughter told Brennan Sunday that they’d spoken to him. Shargi has been imprisoned in Iran since 2018 and his sister, Neda Shargi, tweeted on Saturday, “We once again implore President Biden to do what he needs to get Emad out of danger and back home to the United States.”

Mr. Biden, on a weekend trip to Oregon, said the Iranian “government is so oppressive” and that he had an “enormous amount of respect for people marching in the streets.”

Flames and thick smoke rising from the Evin Prison had been widely visible Saturday night. In online videos, gunshots and explosions could be heard in the area of the prison.

The blaze was extinguished after several hours and no detainees escaped, state media said.

Authorities have attempted to distance the events at the prison from the ongoing protests, while state media have offered conflicting accounts of the violence. Hundreds are being held at Evin, where human rights groups have reported repeated abuses of prisoners.

The facility holds detainees facing security-related charges and includes dual citizens. It’s long been known for holding political prisoners as well as those with ties to the West who’ve been used by Iran as bargaining chips in international negotiations.   

The protests erupted after public outrage 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. Iran’s government insists Amini wasn’t mistreated in police custody, but her family says her body showed bruises and other signs of beating after she was detained.

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