Indonesia prison break leaves five dead

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Armed Indonesian policemen secure the entrance of a burning Tanjung Gusta prison building in Medan city, North Sumatra province on Friday. Five people died and around 200 prisoners including nine terror convicts escaped from the Indonesian jail after violent riots erupted, with inmates setting fire to the prison and hurling bottles at guards. AFP PHOTO

MEDAN: Indonesian police on Friday hunted for around 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.

Some 150 prisoners initially escaped and police and soldiers were still desperately hunting for around 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 well over double its official capacity of 1,054.

“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.

Heru Prakoso, North Sumatra province police spokesman, 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, August 17,” he said.

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

They included six people convicted of terrorism, said Prakoso. 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.

Prakoso added that 55 escapees had so far been arrested after an all-night hunt in the area, including three convicted of terrorism.

A spokesman for the justice and human rights ministry, 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.”

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