Dozens of prisoners have died and some have been left with serious injuries after a fire broke out in an overcrowded Indonesian jail where, reportedly, many doors could not be opened as the flames spread.
At least 41 people were killed in the blaze which broke out at the jail in Tangerang, an industrial and manufacturing hub on the outskirts of the capital city, Jakarta, in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
The fire started at 1:45 a.m. local time in Block C, where some 122 inmates were being held. Rika Aprianti, a spokeswoman for the Justice Ministry’s corrections department, said the block was built to hold 38 people, Reuters has reported. It contained prisoners convicted of drug-related offenses, although one victim was said to be a murder convict and another, convicted of terrorism.
Among the dead were foreigners, including a citizen from Portugal and one person from South Africa, the BBC reported.
Jakarta police spokesman Yusri Yunus said firefighters had to battle the flames for two hours before it was extinguished.
Reporting from outside the complex, Al Jazeera said that at least eight of the 70 injured were in a critical condition and were suffering from more than 90 percent burns to their bodies
“We’re working together with relevant authorities to look into the causes of the fire,” said Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly in a statement, adding that the authorities were “formulating prevention strategies so that severe catastrophes like this won’t happen again.”
Yasonna Laoly said that the prison’s electrical wiring had not been upgraded since the facility was built in 1972. The jail had a 600-person capacity but it housed 2,000 inmates.
Yasonna Laoly said cells were locked at the time and with the fire spreading “some rooms couldn’t be opened.”
“The fire spread quickly and there was no time to open some cells… When the guards found out, the fire had already spread, and that’s where we found the victims,” Yasonna told a press conference, according to the BBC.
“At the Tangerang prison there are only five guards working one shift to guard a prison with 2,079 people,” Leopold Sudaryono, a criminologist and PhD candidate at the Australian National University told Reuters. “So fire detection efforts and evacuations are difficult.”
Prisons in Indonesia are overcrowded, partly because the judicial system emphasizes incarceration rather than rehabilitation of those convicted of drug offenses in the country which has strict narcotics laws.
Wednesday’s blaze is the deadliest to hit Indonesia since 47 people died in a fireworks factory disaster in 2017. In 2019, 30 people were killed in a fire at a matchstick factory in North Sumatra.
Newsweek has contacted Indonesia’s ministry of law and human rights for comment.
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