Jakarta, Indonesia – A massive fire broke out at an overcrowded prison near Indonesia’s capital on Wednesday, killing at least 41 inmates, two with foreign drug-related sentences, and injuring at least 80.
Television footage showed firefighters dousing the blaze as a column of black smoke erupted from the premises. Indonesian Red Cross officials evacuated victims in an ambulance as dozens of bodies in orange bags lay on the floor of a room in the Tangerang prison outside Jakarta.
Most of the 41 people killed were convicted of drug offenses, including two from South Africa and Portugal. Indonesian Minister of Justice and Human Rights Yasona Lolli said another man convicted of terrorism and murder had also lost his life.
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The officer expressed his condolences to the families of the victims and promised to provide the best possible care to the injured.
“This is a tragedy that concerns all of us,” he declared. “We work closely with all relevant parties to investigate the cause of the fire.”
Jakarta Police Chief Fadil Imran said a preliminary investigation into the fire, which began around 1:45 a.m., indicates a short circuit in one of 19 cells in Block C2. There were 122 inmates in the block.
Imran told reporters that after the fire was brought under control, hundreds of police and soldiers were deployed around the prison to prevent the prisoners from escaping.
Imran said, ‘The situation is already under control.
The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights said eight inmates with severe burns were hospitalized and nine other inmates with minor injuries were being treated at the prison clinic. Another 64, most of whom suffered smoke inhalation, were taken to a mosque on the premises.
Rika Aparinti, spokeswoman for the Justice Ministry’s Department of Corrections, said Tengrang Prison was designed to house 1,225 inmates, but held more than 2,000 inmates.
He said that 15 agents guarding the block did not suffer any damage.
Laoli promised to work to prevent a similar tragedy, including by fixing electrical problems in the archipelago’s 477 prisons.
Leaks and riots with fire are common in Indonesia, where overcrowding has become a problem in prisons, which are poorly financed and have a high number of drug arrests.
In April last year, inmates set fire to a prison on the island of Sulawesi to curb the spread of the coronavirus, upset over a ban on family visits and the early release of another 115 inmates. In early 2020, prisoners set fire to the Banda Aceh prison during a riot. No death was reported in any of these incidents.