Evin Prison was constructed in 1972 under the reign of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. It is located at the foot of the Alborz mountains on the former home of Ziaeddin Tabatabaee, who briefly served as prime minister in the 1920s. The grounds of the prison included an execution yard, courtroom, and separate blocks for common criminals and female inmates. It was originally operated by the Shah's security and intelligence service, SAVAK. It quickly supplanted Qasr Prison as the country's "Bastille". It was initially designed to house 320 inmates—20 in solitary cells and 300 in two large communal blocks— and was expanded to hold more than 1,500 prisoners—including 100 solitary cells for political prisoners—by 1977.
Under the Islamic Republic, the prison population was again expanded to 15,000 inmates. According to scholar Ervand Abrahamian: "In theory, Evin was a detention center for those awaiting trial", after which the prisoners would be transferred to another prison, either Qezel Hesar or Gohardasht Prison. "In reality, Evin served as a regular prison as many waited years before being brought to trial". Prominent prisoners often served their entire sentences in Evin. Executions took place at Evin. Following the Islamic Revolution, Mohammad Kachouyi was made warden of Evin. After his assassination in June 1981, Asadollah Lajevardi, the chief prosecutor of Tehran, served as warden until 1985. In 1998, the People's Mujahedin of Iran assassinated Lajevardi. The prison is located in a residential and commercial area known as Evin, next to the Saadat Abad district. There is a large park area with a popular upscale teahouse and restaurant located immediately next to it. Photography in front of and around the prison is illegal.
Prisoners from Evin and Ghezel Hesar prison are to be transferred eventually to the Central Prison of Tehran, also known as Fashafaviye or Fashafoyeh, which is under construction as of August 2015.
Notable prisoners at Evin before the 1979 revolution include Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleghani and Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri. Prisoners held after the Islamic revolution include Marina Nemat, who spent two years in Evin from 1982, having participated in anti regime protests at her school. She has written about her torture and the death of her fellow students at the prison.
Political prisoners of note held at Evin have included Akbar Ganji (held there from 2000 to 2006), Mohsen Sazegara (in 2003), Nasser Zarafshan, as well as Hamid Pourmand (2005–06), Dariush Zahedi, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, on charges of espionage (2003), subsequently acquitted in 2004, and Ramin Jahanbegloo (2006).
On 23 June 2003, Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi was arrested for taking photographs in front of the prison, and died of blunt trauma to the head, while imprisoned. The Iranian government said that she died from a stroke while being interrogated. Doctors examining Kazemi's body found evidence of rape, torture and a skull fracture.
At dawn on 27 July 2008, the Iranian government executed a total of 29 people at Evin Prison by hanging.
Esha Momeni, a student at the California State University, Northridge, was held at Evin after her arrest on 15 October 2008, for crimes against national security. She was in Iran to visit family and research women's rights in the country. Momeni was released 11 November 2008.
On 17 November 2008, Ali Ashtari, a computer wholesaler who provided intelligence about Iran's nuclear facilities to Mossad, was executed by hanging at Evin Prison after being convicted in June 2008. Later that same month, Journalist/blogger Hossein Derakhshan was held at Evin after his arrest in November 2008, allegedly for spying for Israel. Derakhshan was sentenced to 19½ years in prison on 28 September 2010.
Roxana Saberi, an Iranian-American journalist, was arrested in January 2009 for reporting without press credentials with a charge of espionage added in April. She was held in the Evin Prison until her release in May 2009.
Others held at Evin included Iranian laser physicist, Omid Kokabee, who at the time of arrest was a student of University of Texas at Austin (imprisoned at Evin in February 2011 and sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment on charges of collaboration with an enemy), and French student Clotilde Reiss, who stood trial in August 2009.
Andrew Barber, a British tourist, was arrested 21 June 2010 after police searched his laptop and found photos that he has taken of buildings in Iraq where he had worked for DHL, and held in Evin Prison, section 209 for 58 days. Charges were later dropped due to lack of evidence and Barber was released on 25 August 2010.
Over the years, Iranian converts to Christianity have been detained as well. On 5 March 2009 Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad and Maryam Rustampoor were arrested by Iranian security forces and labeled "anti-government activists". Thirty-year-old Marzieh and 27-year-old Maryam were held at Evin Prison, which is notorious for treating women badly. "Women are allowed just a one-minute telephone call every day to their immediate families". On 18 November 2009, Maryam and Marzieh were released without bail but the charges remained intact. In May 2010 Maryam and Marzieh were cleared of all charges.
Three Belgian tourists, Vincent Boon-Falleur, Idesbald Van den Bosch and Diego Mathieu, were detained in Evin Prison for 3 months in 2009. Idesbald and Vincent were arrested on 5 September 2009, for entering an unmarked Iranian Military Zone near Semnan, and were detained in Semnan for 3 days, before being transferred to Evin. Mathieu was later (16 September) arrested at the Iran-Turkmenistan border, because the three had met on 4 September and exchanged phone numbers. The three were accused of spying and detained for three months (8 September—8 December 2009) in Section 209 of the Evin Prison, initially in solitary confinement, and then in 4-person cells with other Iranians. They were released thanks to Belgian diplomatic negotiations.
Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari was imprisoned in Evin for 118 days, after being in Iran while there on assignment to cover the controversial 2009 Iran presidential election. Bahari documented his time at Evin in his memoir, titled Then They Came for Me: A Family's Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival, which was published by Random House in 2011. The memoir is the basis of the film Rosewater, which was written and directed by former The Daily Show host Jon Stewart. The film's title references the nickname Bahari gave his interrogator/torturer at Evin, based on the man's cologne.
Three long time Middle-Eastern residents, Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal, and Sarah Shourd, who were on holiday in Iraqi Kurdistan and were detained by Iran, were held in Evin Prison since the beginning of August 2009 (the three are Americans convicted by the Iranians of spying for Israel). Shourd was kept in solitary confinement. The Washington Post reported that they "were arrested in July  by Iranian border guards while hiking in the mountainous Kurdish region between Iraq and Iran. Their families say they crossed the border accidentally, but a top Iranian prosecutor last month accused the three of spying." In December 2009, Iran's foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the three would be put on trial, in a move that coincided with other points of contention between the two countries. Sarah Shourd was freed 14 September 2010, on a US$500,000 bail. Two days earlier, the three Americans had been charged with espionage by Iranian prosecutors.
Abdolmalek Rigi, the leader of Jundullah, was executed in the prison in 2010.
The prison also held members of religious minorities including members of the Bahá'í Faith — on 14 May 2008, members of an informal body that oversaw the needs of the Bahá'í community in Iran were arrested and taken to Evin prison. They were held in section 209 of the prison which is run by the government's Ministry of Intelligence. On 11 August 2010 it became known that the court sentence was 20 years imprisonment for each of the seven prisoners which was later reduced to ten years. After the sentence, they were transferred to Gohardasht Prison.
According to Saberi, the two Baha'i women are confined in a small cell about four meters by five meters in size, with two little, metal-covered windows. They have no bed. "They must sleep on blankets", said Saberi. "They have no pillows, either. They roll up a blanket to use as a pillow. They use their chadors as a bed sheet."
Studying in India, Asghari was arrested in 2008 at Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport and held in custody since. Vahid Asghari had sued Fars News (IRGC media) and IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting) at the fourth branch of the Culture and Media Court due to the false accusation that was attributed to him when he was in the known 350 ward of Evin Prison in 2011.
From January to May 2010, student activist Majid Tavakoli was held in Evin, primarily in solitary confinement. He began a hunger strike to protest the conditions of his imprisonment, and was transferred to Gohardasht Prison in August 2010.
Human rights blogger and U.S. National Press Club honoree Kouhyar Goudarzi served a one-year prison term in Evin in 2010 for "spreading propaganda against the regime". On 31 July 2011, he was rearrested, and though his current whereabouts are unconfirmed, he is believed to be held in solitary confinement in Evin.
Majid Jamali Fashi, convicted of assassinating Iranian scientist Masoud Alimohammadi and a suspected Mossad spy, was hanged on 15 May 2012 after being convicted on 28 August 2011.
Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American pastor, was sentenced on 27 January 2013 to 8 years imprisonment on charges of evangelizing for his Christian faith. The Obama administration secured his release in a prisoner swap.
Mohammad Heidari and Kourosh Ahmadi, accused of spying for CIA and Mossad, were executed in the prison in 19 May 2013 after being sentenced to death by Tehran's Revolutionary Court for various counts of espionage.
Marzieh Rasouli, a journalist who writes about culture and the arts for several of Iran's reformist and independent publications, was arrested in 2012 and accused of collaborating with the BBC. In 2014 she was convicted of "spreading propaganda" and "disturbing the public order". Sentenced to two years in prison and 50 lashes, she was sent to Evin Prison on 8 July 2014. PEN International has called for her "immediate and unconditional" release.
Amir Hekmati, former US Marine and American citizen, was arrested on charges of espionage in August 2011, and sentenced to execution. Amir was released by Iran as part of the 16 January 2016 prisoner swap with the United States.
on 5 October 2013, Hossein Rajabian Iranian filmmaker and Mehdi Rajabian musician were arrested by the Iranian security forces, they were held for two months in Section 2A (solitary confinement) of the Evin prison. finally on 22 December 2015 at Branch 28 court of the Tehran sentencing to six years in prison for "insulting the sacred" and "propaganda against the state" through artistic activity, as well as a 200 million Toman (about USD 66,650) fine.
Seyed Hamed Hooriaband, worked at the Iranian Embassy in Paris, France. Having taken the side of the people in joining protests for the Green Movement and the opposition in Paris at the 2009 presidential elections, he was fired, targeted, and harassed and made an example of by the Islamic Regime so none of the other diplomatic government officials’ family members would dare to publicly oppose from within the system. After having his family threatened by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, he returned to Iran. In October 2011, security agents raided his parent's home and arrested him without a charge. He was put in solitary confinement at the Evin Prison in the infamous section 240, reserved for political prisoners, where he endured psychological torture and then charged with espionage and embezzlement. He was then sentenced by Revolutionary Court judge Salavati without due process of the law and access to a lawyer, to two years in prison for espionage, and one year and 10 months for embezzlement. The court then acquitted him of embezzlement charges but even though the sentence was revoked he was unlawfully kept for another 13 months in prison and was fined in cash. He has recently been released on bail for good conduct.
In August 2009, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a live broadcast on state radio on rape and torture in the Iranian prisons, "In some detention centers inappropriate measures have taken place for which the enemy was again responsible".
Following the election, Iranian presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi said several protesters held behind bars have been savagely raped, according to a confidential letter to cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Karroubi said this was a "fragment" of the evidence he had and that if the denials did not stop, he would release even more.
It is said that rape has been used by interrogators in Iran for decades. During the 1980s, the rape of female political prisoners was so prevalent that it prompted Hussein-Ali Montazeri, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini’s then-deputy, to write the following to Khomeini in a letter dated 7 October 1986: "Did you know that young women are raped in some of the prisons of the Islamic Republic?" Two prominent members of Iran’s human rights community, the feminist lawyer and journalist Shadi Sadr and the blogger and activist Mojtaba Saminejad published essays online from inside Iran saying prison rape has a long history in the Islamic Republic.