A huge fire has broken out at Iran’s notorious Evin prison – where political prisoners and anti-government activists are held.

Gunshots are reported to have been fired as the blaze took hold at the jail in the capital Tehran on Saturday.

An alarm was heard as the US-based Centre for Human Rights in Iran claimed an “armed conflict” was taking place behind the prison walls.

Shots are said to have first been heard in Ward 7 of the jail, according to unverified reports.

Thick plumes of smoke billowed from the prison, where now freed Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori were detained.

At least eight people are said to have been injured in the blaze, but no fatalities have yet been reported, according to state-run IRNA agency.

IRNA reported there were clashes between prisoners and personnel in one ward.

More on Iran

A senior security official claimed inmates set fire to a warehouse full of prison uniforms, adding the “rioters” had been separated from the other prisoners to de-escalate the conflict.

The situation is now said to be “completely under control” with work under way to put the fire out.

Eyewitnesses said roads to the prison were blocked with at least three explosions heard in the area.

Heavy traffic built up near the prison with motorists honking their horns in solidarity.

The internet is also said to have been blocked after the fire started.

The blaze happened as violent anti-government demonstrations intensified across the country for a fifth week, sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, with children among the dozens dead.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player


Why are Iranians protesting?

Fury over Iranian dress code crackdown

International anger erupted when Ms Amini, 22, died in police custody on 16 September after being arrested by morality police in Tehran for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.

Iranian officials insist she was not mistreated in custody and previously said she had a heart attack.

Read more:
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: “The world cannot turn a blind eye to Iran”
Britain sanctions Iran’s morality police after death of Mahsa Amini

But her family believes her body showed signs of being beaten after she was held.

On Saturday night, the National Council of Resistance of Iran said people had gathered opposite the Iranian Embassy in London to protest against “the regime’s criminal attack on prisoners” – and to urge the international community to “intervene to prevent another massacre in Evin Prison”.

People including Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe cut their hair in a show of defiance against authorities – despite the risk of imprisonment.

This week, a senior Iranian official became the first to publicly criticise the regime’s hijab crackdown.

Ali Larijani, an adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, called for a re-think on how girls and women who do not adhere to the Islamic dress code are dealt with.

‘Land of the living dead’

Mr Ashoori has previously revealed his struggle to survive after spending five years in Evin prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

He described the prison as a “circle of hell”, revealing how he had to beg guards for basic needs such as using the toilet.

He was interrogated “day after day from eight in the morning right to 10 or 11 in the evening”, as his captors made threats against his family, showing him pictures of his wife and children and warning he would never see them again.

He eventually hit his “threshold of mental pain and had a mental collapse” – leading to three unsuccessful suicide attempts, the last being a 17-day hunger strike.

“When you are here with a heavy sentence on you it is as if you have died but you are not completely detached in this world,” he said.

Twitter account @FreeAnnosheh posted on Saturday night: “I can’t possibly imagine how awful & worried these poor families must feel. My heart goes out to everyone who has a loved one inside #Evin“.