Videos shared on social media showed thick smoke billowing from the facility at the foot of the Alborz Mountains in the capital Tehran. Automatic gunfire can be heard in some videos, while others show a nearby highway packed with cars honking relentlessly in what appears to be a protest.
Iran’s semi-official Fars and Tasnim news agency reported that the unrest began as a dispute between prisoners convicted of financial crimes in the 6th and 7th districts led other prisoners to set fire to workshops and warehouses full of clothes.
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Fars reported that some prisoners had weapons ready to deal with guards, suggesting the fire was planned. Amid the chaos, some prisoners tried to escape and entered a minefield north of the prison, causing the explosion, the agency said.
Tasnim showed footage of a journalist patrolling the prison, allegedly after the fire, to demonstrate that order had been restored. He paused in front of the clock and pointed to the time, which was about 2:06 a.m., apparently proving that the flames were under control shortly after they started.
Evan has been the site of some of the worst abuses in the Islamic Republic, with many prisoners detailing extensive psychological and physical torture inside. At least one wing of the prison is controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps intelligence unit, and the other wing is run by the intelligence ministry.
Families of inmates outside the prison were attacked with tear gas early Saturday, and roads leading there were blocked as night fell, according to the Center for Iranian Human Rights, a New York-based advocacy group. The group reported that an ambulance and bus were dispatched to Avon to transfer injured prisoners to hospital.
Inmates at Avon prison include Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American businessman arrested in 2015, as well as journalists and political prisoners.
“We are urgently following reports from Avon Prison,” State Department spokesman Ned Price tweet Saturday. “We are engaging with Switzerland as our protective force. Iran bears full responsibility for the safety of our wrongfully detained citizens, who should be released immediately.”
Videos posted online showed people in the neighborhood around Avon chanting “death to the dictator”, while other videos showed riot police riding motorcycles to the prison.
On Sunday, Namazi’s attorney, Jared Genser tweet Namazi is safe and his family has been contacted. After the fire, Genser on Saturday called on President Biden to “bring home the American hostages.”
Genser also said Namazi was held in solitary confinement following the riot, allegedly “for his own safety”. Let Namazi “return” #IRGC Loneliness is a living nightmare,” Genser added, referring to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. “He was tortured there for two years. “
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The government has been cracking down on protesters since demonstrations swept the country nearly a month ago. Internet and cellular networks in the region have been devastated over the past two weeks, leaving many in the dark as people abroad scrambled to piece together how the violence unfolded.
The protests were sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, in the custody of the “morality police” on September 9. 16. The Iranian government’s response was swift and deadly: an order issued by the country’s top military body on September 24. According to a leaked document obtained by Amnesty International and reviewed by The Washington Post, instructions were given on the 21st to “tack hard on troublemakers and counter-revolutionaries”.
Dehghanpisheh reported from Phoenix.