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Jakarta Post

COVID-19: Riot breaks out in North Sulawesi prison amid virus fears

  • Agustinus Hari

    The Jakarta Post

Manado, North Sulawesi   /   Mon, April 13, 2020   /   01:56 pm
COVID-19: Riot breaks out in North Sulawesi prison amid virus fears Prisoners set fire to tires and threw windows at buildings during riots at Manado Penitentiary in North Sulawesi on April 11, 2020. A number of prisoners put up a fight and set fire to several rooms in the prison, the motives are unknown. (Antara/Adwit B Pramono)

A riot broke out at Manado Penitentiary in North Sulawesi, allegedly triggered by visitation restrictions and early release of inmates amid COVID-19 concerns, culminating in a massive fire that razed parts of the prison complex on Saturday afternoon.

A propane tank inside the prison appeared to have been ruptured by an as-yet-unidentified party at around 4:30 p.m. local time, resulting in the blaze that went on to damage some of the building’s vital infrastructures. Several areas in the correctional facility were still on fire hours later at 8:30 p.m.

Lumaksono, the head of the Law and Human Rights Ministry office in North Sulawesi, confirmed that a riot had taken place at the penitentiary.

“The inmates have been on edge because of COVID-19. We released 115 convicts yesterday, while the remaining 435 inmates were to stay in prison,” Lumaksono said.“

“These remaining inmates had also asked for parole because they were scared of [the pandemic].”

Read also: COVID-19: Indonesia releases more than 5,500 inmates, plans to free 50,000

As of Sunday, North Sulawesi had recorded at least 17 confirmed COVID-19 cases and two deaths caused by the disease.

Prison warden Sulistyo Ariwibowo remained tight-lipped as to what caused the unrest. Other members of the local police force who were at the scene to apprehend those involved in the riot are also yet to have any conclusive answer.

“We have yet to learn the exact cause [of the incident]. Right now, members of the local police force and mobile brigade are securing the premises,” said Manado Police chief Sr. Comr. Benny Bawensel.

Rumors have since circulated that the riot was incited by a number of drug convicts who had been complaining about the alleged restriction of their visitation privileges. The prison management had purportedly limited prison visits to prevent the distribution of illicit drugs in the building.

Speculation was also rife that the incident was triggered by several inmates who envied their fellow inmates who were granted early release due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The remaining inmates had reportedly thrown rocks at a number of prison guards to convey their disappointment.

Read also: Jokowi against releasing graft convicts amid COVID-19 pandemic

North Sulawesi Police chief Sr. Comr. Jules Abast said the police had cooperated with the prison management to investigate the cause of the unrest. Police personnel had since regained control of the building, according to him.

“The situation has returned [to normal],” Jules said, adding that around 400 inmates had been accounted for following the riot.

He went on to say that several inmates and police personnel who sustained injuries during the conflict had also been evacuated.

Parts of the prison that were damaged in the fire included cell blocks for graft and drug convicts, a polyclinic, cafeteria, and workshop, acting director general of corrections at the Law and Human Rights Ministry, Nugroho, said.

Hundreds of the remaining inmates had since been transferred to several other correctional facilities across North Sulawesi, he said.

“As many as 137 inmates have been transferred to other facilities across the province – 32 were transferred to Bitung Penitentiary, 34 to Tondano Penitentiary, 30 to Amurang Penitentiary, and 41 to the North Sulawesi Police headquarters,” Nugroho said in a statement on Sunday, adding that there were currently 295 remaining inmates at Manado Penitentiary.

Tejo Harwanto, the directorate general’s order and security division head, went on to say that 41 inmates – including 18 suspects – had been apprehended.

“We will further question them,” Tejo said. (rfa)