Police hunt 100 escapees after 5 die in Indonesia prison riot

Overcrowded jail on Sumatra island is set alight by angry inmates, who hurl bottles at guards in protest over power cuts and water shortages

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 July, 2013, 2:32am


Indonesian police were yesterday hunting for around 100 inmates who escaped from an overcrowded jail after setting it ablaze in riots that left five dead, as security personnel regained control of the prison.

Inmates began rampaging through the jail in Medan on Sumatra island on Thursday, setting fires and hurling bottles at guards in anger over power cuts and water shortages.

The Tanjung Gusta jail was engulfed in towering flames and scores of firefighters battled through the night to douse them.

Some 150 prisoners, including militants, escaped and police and soldiers were yesterday still urgently seeking around 100 convicts after recapturing several dozen overnight.

"We have gradually regained control of the prison and soldiers have entered the prison without resistance," said Akbar Hadi Prabowo, the spokesman for Indonesia's directorate general of penitentiary.

Justice and Human Rights minister Amir Syamsuddin has held talks with representatives of the prisoners, Akbar said, without giving details.

Deputy justice minister Dr Denny Indrayana appealed to those who had escaped to give themselves up to the police.

"Legal action will be taken to chase them, and tougher action will be applied to those who refuse to surrender," Indrayana said.

Prisoners are often held in grim, overcrowded jails in Indonesia, and Tanjung Gusta is no exception; it currently holds well over double its official capacity of 1,054.

The prisoners were seen casually chatting outside their cells early yesterday while heavily armed security forces formed a cordon round the building.

They allowed in about two dozen soldiers but did not let police enter.

"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.

Five people - three prisoners and two prison staff - had died in the riots, Indrayana said. The two prison staff had become trapped in their burning office, he added.

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

They include six people convicted of terrorist offences, said North Sumatra province police spokesman Heru Prakoso. The prison housed 11 extremists, he added.

Some were jailed for their involvement at a camp in Aceh province where, police say, militants were planning 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 said that 55 escapees had so far been detained, including three convicted of terrorist offences.

The prison had been guarded by civilians and not police, he added.

A spokesman for the justice and human rights ministry, Goncang Raharjo, said 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."

The co-ordinating minister for politics, legal affairs and security, Djoko Suyanto, said the riots were a call to action on the problem of overcrowded prisons.

"We will [first] distribute prisoners at Tanjung Gusta to other nearby prisons," he said.

In February last year, dozens of inmates at the overcrowded Kerobokan prison on the resort island of Bali rioted and set parts of the facility on fire, sending outnumbered guards running.

The riots ended days later when heavily armed police stormed the prison.

Additional reportingby Associated Press