Almost 100 inmates on the loose in Indonesia

AFP, MEDAN, Indonesia

Sat, Jul 13, 2013 - Page 6

Indonesian police yesterday hunted for about 100 inmates, including militants, who escaped from an overcrowded jail after setting the prison ablaze in riots that left five dead.

The inmates began rampaging through the jail in Medan City on Sumatra Island on Thursday afternoon, setting fires and hurling bottles at guards in anger over power cuts and water shortages at the facility.

The Tanjung Gusta jail was engulfed in towering flames and scores of firefighters battled through the night to douse them.

About 150 prisoners initially escaped and police and soldiers were on yesterday still desperately hunting for about 100 after recapturing several dozen overnight.

Prisoners are often held in grim, overcrowded jails in Indonesia, and Tanjung Gusta is no exception as it currently holds more than double its official capacity of 1,054.

The prisoners were still in control of the jail early yesterday, casually chatting outside their cells while heavily armed security forces formed a cordon round the building, a reporter at the scene said.

They allowed in about two dozen soldiers, but did not let police enter, the reporter said.

“We don’t like police, they are inhumane, they frequently beat us,” one of the prisoners shouted, as another waved a charred gun and handcuffs at officers.

North Sumatra Province police spokesman Heru Prakoso said that prisoners and a government official would hold talks later in the day in a bid to break the standoff.

“Seven inmates will represent the prisoners and will negotiate later today with a senior official of the justice and human rights ministry,” he said.

Five people — three prisoners and two prison staff — had been killed in the riots, he added.

The two prison staff died trapped in their burning office, said Denny Indrayana, coordinating deputy minister for politics, legal and security.

“They were collating prisoner data on remission, which was to be given on Independence Day, Aug. 17,” he said.

About 1,000 police and soldiers were deployed to guard the facility and undertake a massive hunt around the area yesterday to try and find prisoners still on the loose.

They included six people convicted of terrorism, Prakoso said.

The prison had been holding a total of 11 terror convicts, he said.

Some were jailed for their involvement in militant training at a camp in Aceh Province where, police say, militants were planning Mumbai-style gun attacks on high-profile Indonesians.

The others were connected with a bank robbery to fund terror activities and the killings of police officers, police said.

The prison had been guarded by civilians and not police, he added.

Indonesian Ministry of Justice and Human Rights spokesman Goncang Raharjo said that Tanjung Gusta was overcrowded.

“The prison capacity is only 1,054, but it now holds about 2,600 convicts and suspects on trials,” he said. “Most prisons across the country have this problem.”

The Indonesian Minister for Politics, Legal and Security Djoko Suyanto said the riots were a call to action on the nationwide problem of overcrowded prisons.