By Insiya Raja
A massive fire broke out, supposedly coincidently, at one of Iran’s most notorious detention centres, Evin prison, located in the northern hills of its capital Tehran on October 18, 2022. Accompanied by an infographic conveying basic statistics and information, this article briefly examines the systemic treatment of political prisoners in Evin, one of Iran’s most infamous and overcrowded prisons.
The Washington Post found that at least one of the fires seemed to be started intentionally at a time when prisoners would be locked in their cells. As prisoners tried to flee the fire, guards and other forces ambushed the prisoners with live ammunition, metal pellets, and explosives. As tall flames engulfed Evin prison, killing at least eight people and injuring over sixty-one, it is worth looking at who has been detained there and how they have been systematically dealt with in the recent past.
Evin prison’s horrific past can be traced back to the regime of the last Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was overthrown by the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Run by Shah’s secret police, the SAVAK, Evin bore witness to thousands of Iranians arbitrarily detained, tortured, and executed. After the Revolution, it became a prison incarcerating not only pro-monarchists but also countless others who were seen as a threat to Ruhollah Khomeini’s regime. According to Human Rights Watch, the darkest period in Evin’s history came in the late summer of 1988 when thousands of mainly leftist political prisoners were executed after cursory trials, crushing dissent at the end of the Iran-Iraq War and paving the way for a smooth succession to the next Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. 
Iran has a history of taking dual national citizens as prisoners and holding them hostage on trumped-up and facetious charges of conspiracy against the regime and spying (see Reuters’ recent report for an analysis on which foreign nationals are held at Evin). Ana Diamond, a dual British-Iranian citizen, was detained at Evin as a result of hostile diplomatic and political circumstances. First, she was banned from travelling and then charged with spying. She was also the victim of a flawed judicial system that can detain and abuse anyone under the pretext of national security charges.
Many political prisoners are taken to Section 209 of the prison – suspected to be operated by the Ministry of Interior. First, they are blindfolded and taken downstairs into a basement, into a section consisting of ninety solitary cells in multiple rows. A light remains on twenty-four hours a day, and there is only one small window in each cell. The smaller cells have only a barred window to the corridor, and prisoners have described these as suffocating. For more details on the prison, see Tortoise project where former inmates have given testimonials and helped recreate a map of the prison.
In Ana’s experience, wardens and staff in prison constantly used different ways to humiliate the prisoner and make them suffer in their daily lives. For example, prison guards took all of Ana’s personal belongings and only gave her men’s clothes to wear and a single kitchen towel to use. She would be blindfolded everytime she had to go from her solitary cell to the bathroom, which is the norm in the prison. Women prisoners were denied or given rationed sanitary products. This prison now holds thousands of recently arrested protesters who have protested against the regime since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. In Ana’s perspective, the situation now is likely to be much worse within the prison due to overcrowding. Most famous amongst these are two journalists, Niloofar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi, who were vital in reporting on Mahsa’s case in the immediate aftermath of her death. Evin is a massive compound where prisoners are driven from one place to another, and different security agencies are responsible for managing the various wards: the Ministry of Intelligence takes on national security prisoners and is known to be quite brutal; solitary confinement cells run by the IRGC usually hold political prisoners who are subjected to harsh interrogations and torture.
There is a joke amongst former inmates at Evin prison that illustrates painfully the situation:
Once an inmate goes to the library at Evin prison and asks for books to read; the librarian says: “We don’t have the books; but, we have the authors”
Special thank you to Ana Diamond for sharing her firsthand experience about Evin prison.
Resources used for infographic:
 It is hard to determine conclusively whether the fighting and the fire were directly related to the ongoing protests, given the lack of independent access to the prison.
This piece was published as part of “Zan, Zindagi, Azadi”: A series of weekly articles and interviews that unpack different symbols and concepts at the heart of the most recent developments in Iran