At least 32 people were killed and 16 others injured when a fire tore through a drug rehabilitation center in northern Iran on Friday, state media reported.
Unverified video posted by ISNA, the Iranian student news agency, showed a large ball of flames and smoke rising in the sky along an urban road.
An initial investigation determined that a heater had sparked the blaze, setting a curtain on fire that spread to the rest of the building, according to the Fars News Agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Mohammad Jalai, the deputy governor of the province where the blaze occurred, told Fars that the manager of the rehab center and other “related officials” had been arrested in connection with the fire. He blamed overcrowding at the facility for the high toll, Fars reported.
Iran has long grappled with severe rates of addiction, which the United Nations has estimated are among the highest in the world. The country sits on a main smuggling route for heroin and opium, primarily coming from Afghanistan to Western Europe.
Some drug offenses are punishable by death in Iran. At one point, possession of as little as 30 grams of heroin was enough under Iranian law to face execution by hanging, though in 2017, the country significantly raised the bar for the mandatory imposition of the death penalty, according to Human Rights Watch.
However, a June report from Amnesty International said that the Iranian authorities had executed at least 173 people convicted of drug-related offenses this year, calling it a significant increase from 2022. Executions for drug-related offenses made up two-thirds of all the executions carried out in Iran in the first five months of 2023, according to Amnesty.
Leily Nikounazar contributed reporting.