Authorities have attempted to distance the events at the prison from the ongoing protests, while state media has offered conflicting accounts of the violence. Hundreds are being held at Evin, where human rights groups have reported repeated abuses of prisoners.
Families of inmates gathered Sunday near the prison hoping for news of their loved ones inside.
Masoumeh, 49, who only gave her first name, said her 19-year-old son was taken to the prison two weeks ago after taking part in the street protests. “I cannot trust news about his health, I need to see him closely,” she said.
Another man, Reza, who also gave only his first name, said his brother has been in Evin Prison since last year after he was involved in a violent quarrel. “He did not call us in recent days and following last night’s fire I am here to learn what happened to him,” he said.
State media originally reported nine people were injured but the judiciary-affiliated website Mizan.news on Sunday said four inmates died of smoke inhalation and 61 others were injured. It said all four who died were in prison on robbery convictions.
Ten inmates were hospitalized, with four of them in serious condition, Mizan reported. It said some prisoners had tried to escape but failed.
State TV on Sunday aired video purporting to show the fire’s aftermath of scorched walls and ceilings in a room it said was the upper floor of a sewing workshop at the prison.
“This fire was caused by a fight between some prisoners in a sewing workshop,” said Tehran Gov. Mohsen Mansouri.
Iranian social media posts challenged state media claims over the cause of the fire and apparent explosions at the prison. Former inmate of Evin and rights activist Atena Daemi said in a Tweet Sunday that normally, all prisoners are sent to their wards and the workshops closed by sunset.
The European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell expressed his “most serious concern” to Iran’s foreign minister and called for “maximum transparency on the situation” following the prison blaze and apparent violence.
Iranian authorities are responsible for the lives of “all detainees, including human rights defenders and EU nationals,” Borrell said in a Tweet Sunday.
Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reported Saturday that there were clashes between prisoners in one ward and prison personnel, citing a senior security official. The official said “rioters” set fire to a warehouse full of prison uniforms, which caused the blaze.