DUBAI At least 11 prisoners have died of suffocation in a prison fire in central Iran apparently caused by inmates, Iranian media said.
Fourteen other prisoners were reported hospitalized after inhaling carbon monoxide generated by the massive fire on Monday afternoon in Shahr-e-Kord Prison.
Iran's prison chief Asghar Jahangir said arson was the cause. "The fire was caused intentionally and the culprit has been identified. But there were no scuffles between prisoners and inmates," he told reporters at a human rights seminar in Tehran.
Opposition site Saham News said the deaths had occurred after guards locked prison gates, obstructing firefighters and ambulances from helping inmates who had set clothes and mattresses on fire in protest.
"The prisoners were angry because cellmates had been punished by prison authorities for protesting over miserable living conditions," it said on Tuesday.
State news agency IRNA said judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani had sent a team to investigate the incident, which comes three months after reports of severe beatings of prisoners in Tehran's Evin Prison.
Islamic hardliners in charge of the sharia-inspired court and prison system have long been accused of human rights violations, but dismiss such allegations as politically motivated.
(Reporting by Michelle Moghtader; editing by Andrew Roche)