There is growing international concern at recent developments in Iran and in particular at the increasingly vicious tactics employed by the theocratic regime in its bid to crush nationwide protests. Media reports state that there have been more than 200 deaths so far as the uprising enters its fifth week. However, information provided by resistance units of the main opposition Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) inside Iran, indicate that more than 400 people have been killed. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the paramilitary Basij have used batons, steel rods, tear gas, shotguns and live ammunition to kill and maim mostly young protesters, many of whom are women and young girls. More than 20,000 people have been arrested. The insurrection has now spread to 199 cities and involves all 31 provinces in Iran.

The latest outrage took place at the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran. Following widespread protests from political prisoners inside Evin, a fire was reported in the prison on the evening of Saturday 15th October. Spokesmen for the regime claimed an “accidental” fire had begun in a sewing room and according to state-run media reports, four prisoners died of smoke inhalation. They later revised that figure to eight. In fact, it now appears that the death toll was much higher and there is mounting evidence that the entire incident was pre-planned by the regime in order that they could mount a lethal assault on the protesting political prisoners. Witnesses said that up to sixty prisoners, mostly from Ward 7, were killed by prison guards and by the IRGC, Basij and Special Police Force (NOPO).

There is clear evidence that the attack on political prisoners was planned in advance. An elite prisoner Mehdi Rafsanjani, the son of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was on temporary leave from the prison, was told not to return to Evin on that Saturday evening. Akbar Tabari, the deputy to the then judiciary chief Sadegh Amoli Larijani, and Mohammad Ali Najafi, the former minister and mayor of Tehran, who are both prisoners in Evin, were transferred to Evin medical centre before the attack for their safety. NOPO guards then threw down some prisoners who had been protesting on a rooftop and opened fire on a gathering of prisoners in the courtyard below. They attacked political prisoners in Ward 8 with live ammunition and shotguns and fired tear gas to the point of suffocation. They also locked the doors of the women’s Ward and fired tear gas inside, so that the female prisoners had no means of escape. Prisoners were forced to lie down in the prison yard and were beaten mercilessly for several hours. Some died as a result. We understand that in the courtyard of Ward 8, blood was spilled to such an extent that resembled a slaughterhouse. It still had not been cleared up after 24 hours.

As soon as the news broke about the clashes and fire from inside the prison, a large number of people from across Tehran rushed towards Evin by car, and heavy traffic built up on the Imam Memorial Highway, blocking all access with their cars, preventing other IRGC and Basij units from reinforcing their IRGC and NOPO colleagues inside the jail. Had they not done so, there is no doubt that many more prisoners would have been killed. People trying to reach the prison clashed with security forces in the Saadat Abad District. Locals reported that shots and tear gas had been fired, while people in Naziabad District used the security vacuum to mount a protest in sympathy with the prisoners. In a blind panic, the regime deployed helicopters, drones, and quadcopters to try to control traffic and to quell a protest that took place outside the prison’s perimeter. The IRGC also tried to block the highway by positioning a pickup truck with a mounted machinegun at the intersection of Qaitariya and Shariati streets. Simultaneously, all personnel of the regime’s judiciary were placed on high alert.

When the roads were eventually cleared, witnesses reported that firefighters and ambulances continuously went to Evin Prison. Buses had to be used to transport the wounded to a local hospital. Even now, a humanitarian disaster could still occur as Evin remains locked up and no one has been allowed to visit the prison; even members of the regime’s Majilis are being prevented from visiting the jail. It is essential that the UN sends an international fact-finding mission to Tehran to investigate what happened inside Evin Prison. 

As part of the wider nationwide insurrection, these courageous prison protests are the broadest picture yet of a defiant nation that has had enough of the regime’s corruption, ineptitude, and oppression. The West must impose tougher sanctions on the mullahs’ dictatorship and they must send the clearest possible message to the Iranian people that we support unequivocally their right to demand regime change and their right to self-defense in face of the regime’s brutal crackdown. We can underline that support by recalling our ambassadors from Tehran for consultations and by reconsidering our future relations with this murderous regime. 

Western powers have to recognise that supporting the people of Iran is exactly the same as supporting the people of Ukraine. Both are fighting for freedom, justice and democracy. Both are fighting against brutal dictatorships. Iran is one of Vladimir Putin’s biggest allies, supplying him with thousands of weaponized drones that he is using, ruthlessly, to murder Ukrainian men, women and children. Regime change in Iran would significantly weaken Putin and that surely must be a goal that we should all support.