Fire at overcrowded Indonesian prison kills at least 40 people

Block housed inmates held for drug-related offences and had triple its capacity

The body of  a victim of a prison fire in Tangerang, Indonesia, is loaded into a van at a hospital. Photograph: EPA

The body of a victim of a prison fire in Tangerang, Indonesia, is loaded into a van at a hospital. Photograph: EPA

 

At least 41 inmates, two of them foreigners serving drug sentences, have died and 80 others have been injured following a fire at an overcrowded prison in Indonesia.

Firefighters worked throughout the early hours of Wednesday to extinguish the flames as black smoke billowed from the compound of the Tangerang prison on the outskirts of the country’s capital Jakarta.

Ambulances filled with body bags were driven from the prison to a nearby hospital morgue after the fire was put out.

Relatives of prisoners arrived at the jail throughout the day to check whether their loved ones were among the dead.

Most of the 41 people killed were drug convicts, including a man from South Africa and a man from Portugal, while other victims included a terrorism convict and a murderer, Indonesia’s law and human rights minister Yasonna Laoly told reporters.

He expressed his deep condolences for the families of the victims and pledged to provide the best treatment for those injured.

“This is a tragedy that concerns all of us,” Mr Laoly said.

“We are working closely with all relevant parties to investigate the causes of the fire.”

The blaze broke out at 1.45am in Block C2 of the prison, where the 19 cells that were built to hold 40 inmates were stuffed full with more than triple that number.

The cause of the fire appears to have been an electrical short circuit, according to initial findings, Jakarta police chief Fadil Imran said.

As the fire was brought under control, hundreds of police officers and soldiers were deployed around the prison to prevent inmates from escaping, Mr Imran told reporters.

As of July, there were a total of 268,610 inmates in Indonesia’s prisons, which were built to hold 132,107 people.

Tangerang prison was designed to house 900 inmates but had more than 2,000, Mr Laoly said.

The government has acknowledged the problem of overcrowding in prisons – with more than half of the system’s inmates being held on narcotics offences as a result of the country’s war on drugs.

It said it was planning to refocus its approach towards drug offenders to start looking at them as addicts who need treatment, rather than criminals, in the hope of dramatically reducing prison numbers.

Reynhard Silitonga, head of corrections at the ministry of law and human rights, said that if there was not a change in policy, the number of inmates could top 400,000 within five years.

In addition to those who died in the Tangerang fire, eight inmates were hospitalised with severe burns and nine with light injuries were treated at a prison clinic, the ministry said.

A further 64, many suffering smoke inhalation, were evacuated to a mosque in the compound for observation.

The 15 prison officers guarding the cell block were unhurt, Rika Aprianti, spokesperson for the corrections department, said. – AP