A fire in an Indonesian prison leaves 41 dead, including a Portuguese

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Mast Irham / EPA

At least 41 detainees died, including a Portuguese national, and dozens more were injured in a fire that broke out last night in a crowded Indonesian prison in the Jakarta region, authorities said.

The fire broke out in the prison in Tangerang, a city west of the Indonesian capital.

“The fire spread quickly and there wasn’t enough time to open some cells”, explained Indonesia’s Justice Minister Yasonna Laoly during a press conference.

The official added that “40 people died on the spot, another died on the way to hospital” and that they were identified eight detainees seriously injured.

The minister also pointed to the existence of 31 minor injuries.

According to the agency France Presse, which quotes the Indonesian minister of justice, a South African detainee and a portuguese they are among the dead.

Television footage showed firefighters fighting the flames that swept through one of the prison buildings overnight, emitting a thick cloud of smoke.

Indonesia Red Cross workers evacuated dozens of victims to ambulances, and dozens more bodies in orange bags were placed in a room at the Tangerang prison outside Jakarta, which mainly housed detainees by drug trafficking or consumption.

The victims’ bodies were sent to a hospital in East Jakarta, where they will be identified. DNA tests will be needed for some victims, recalled the Minister of Justice.

The seriously injured were transported to hospitals in the city of Tangerang and those with lighter injuries were taken to a clinic near the prison facility.

Marlinah, a relative of one of the victims of the fire, went to the hospital to identify the body: “I came as soon as I received the news about my younger brother, Muhammad Yusuf (…) I was informed that my brother had left us and that block C2 it had burned,” the woman told Agence France Presse.

Tearfully, Marlinah said she hoped she could bury her brother in her hometown of Bogor, east of Jakarta.

Authorities are still investigating the causes of the fire, but suspect an electrical problem in one of the 19 cells in block C2 of the prison establishment.

“I inspected the site of the fire and, based on the first observations, the fire would have started due to a short circuit,” said Fadil Imran, chief of police in Jakarta.

The electrical installations of the Tangerang prison, built in 1972, have not been modernized for over 40 years., said the Minister of Justice.

This prison also housed two and a half times more detainees than expected – more than 2,000 instead of 600 – according to data on the prison department’s website.

The building that burned down was also overcrowded, acknowledged the spokeswoman for the General Directorate of Prisons, Rika Aprianti.

“The maximum capacity of Block C was 40 people, but it was used for 120 detainees”, said the responsible to Metro TV.

Indonesian prisons are often poorly sanitary and overcrowded. It is quite common for detainees to flee or rebel against the inhuman conditions in which they live.

In 2019, at least 100 prisoners escaped from a prison in Riau province on the island of Sumatra after a fire.