A fire engulfed a packed prison block just outside Indonesia’s capital overnight, killing at least 41 inmates, many who were trapped in their cells.
Footage showed the charred walls and scorched metal doors of the rooms where prisoners were sleeping before the blaze reached them. A local television channel reported that dozens of people sustained injuries and eight suffered severe burns.
Firefighters rushed through the night to douse the billowing flames that tore through the Tangerang prison in Indonesia’s Banten province on the outskirts of Jakarta. A nearby hospital was covered in yellow and orange body bags.
The prison block had been crammed with over three times more people than it could fit.
With the fire raging and the gates locked, “some cells couldn’t be opened,” Indonesia’s justice and human rights minister, Yasonna Laoly, said Wednesday. The facility’s wiring had not been upgraded since it was built in the 1970s, he was also cited as saying.
The death toll highlighted crowding in Indonesia’s prison system. Rika Aprianti, a spokeswoman for the ministry’s corrections department, said that when the fire broke out, 122 people were in detention in a space that was meant to hold 38.
Human Rights Watch estimated that the country’s facilities held 270,000 people last year — more than double their capacity — with many detained on drug charges. It stated that prisons are at high risk for coronavirus epidemics.
Most of the dead on Wednesday had faced drug convictions. The justice minister said that two of the dead were from South Africa or Portugal.
Police officers, who deployed around the Tangerang prison to prevent a jailbreak, brought family members of the victims in to identify the bodies. Survivors were reportedly moved to a mosque temporarily.