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Govt caves in to prisoners’
demand

The government said on Saturday it would evaluate a 2012 government regulation on remissions believed to have triggered a prison riot in Medan, North Sumatra.

Law and Human Rights Minister Amir Syamsuddin said he had met with inmates at Tanjung Gusta Penitentiary after the Thursday riot that left five people dead, including two prison guards, and led to more than 200 inmates escaping.

During the meeting, he said prisoners complained about the regulation, which imposed stricter remission requirements on drug, graft and terror convicts.

“We will review the regulation,” the minister said, adding the prison’s protest may represent inmates’ discontent over the new policy.

Later on Saturday, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered his aides to issue supporting regulations on the implementation of the new remission policy to avoid confusion.

It is alleged that about 1,700 drug convicts or about 65 percent of the total number of inmates housed in the penitentiary were upset they would no longer get sentence remissions and decided to incite a riot. The regulation, however, only applies to drug dealers, not all drug convicts, the government said.

The regulation, which was aimed to serve as a deterrent to terror, graft and drug convicts, has long been a subject of controversy. Critics claim that it violates the rights of inmates and also contradicts higher laws.

Noted lawyer and former law and human rights minister Yusril Ihza Mahendra, representing several high-profile graft suspects, has challenged the regulation through the Supreme Court, arguing it contradicts the 1995 Penitentiary Law and the 1999 Human Rights Law.

Despite Amir’s claim, a thorough investigation by the police, however, will be launched to determine both the motive behind Thursday’s riot in the maximum security penitentiary — whether it was due to blackouts and water stoppages only, or also to the new remission policy — and whether it was planned or spontaneous.

Djoko said that as of Saturday morning, the police had recaptured 94 inmates, including five convicted terrorists, and were still hunting down the remaining 118 escaped inmates. A total of 212 inmates, not 240 as earlier claimed, including nine terrorists, escaped from the prison while a fire raged following the riot.

Djoko said Amir has ordered prison guards in other prisons to anticipate similar occurrences, as the incident highlights a nationwide overcapacity problem. There are currently 160,000 prisoners across the country, making a national average of 150 percent overcapacity, with one guard for 50 every prisoners against the ideal 1:5 ratio, Amir’s deputy, Denny Indrayana, said recently.

“The President has also instructed extra money should be allocated if the Rp 1 trillion [US$100 million] earmarked for the establishment of new penitentiaries since 2010 is not enough,” Djoko stated after a limited Cabinet meeting on Saturday at the air base led by Yudhoyono immediately after he landed from a work visit to Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara.

The President slammed his ministers for being late in issuing an official statement, saying the lack of a statement may “give an impression of omission or that steps have not been taken”.

Yudhoyono told the ministers he learned about the incident from foreign television channels and social media like Twitter and Facebook.

Separately, Tanjung Gusta warden Muji Raharjo admitted that identities of the escaped inmates had been lost in the prison fire, adding that his office would request copies from the law ministry as soon as possible.

Medan Police chief Sr. Comr. Nico Afinta said the police would use documents collected from the courts and prosecutor’s offices to identify and hunt down inmates still on the loose, including four terrorists. One of the four terror convicts is Fadli Sadama, who was involved in the 2010 CIMB Niaga Bank robbery in Medan that left one police officer dead.

The investigation by Medan Police had also found the point of origin of fire, which indicated arson. “There is evidence that the fire was set deliberately,” Nico said.

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