11 July 2024

(AP) — A massive fire raged through an overcrowded prison near Indonesia’s capital early Wednesday, killing at least 41 inmates, two of them foreigners serving drug sentences, and injuring 80 others.

Televised footage showed firefighters battling to extinguish orange flames while black smoke billowed from the compound. Indonesian Red Cross officials evacuated the victims to ambulances and dozens of bodies in orange bags were laid in a room of Tangerang prison on the outskirts of Jakarta.

Most of the 41 killed were drug convicts, including two men from South Africa and Portugal, but a terrorism convict and a murder were also killed, Indonesia’s Justice and Human Rights minister Yasona Laoly told reporters.

He expressed his deep condolences for the family of the victims and pledged to provide the best treatment for injured victims.

“This is a tragedy that concerns all of us,” Laoly said. “We are working closely with all relevant parties to investigate the causes of the fire.”

The preliminary investigation into the cause of the fire that started around 1:45 a.m. pointed to a short circuit in one of 19 cells in prison Block C2, Jakarta Police Chief Fadil Imran said. Block C2 was stuffed full with 122 convicts.

After the fire was extinguished, hundreds of police and soldiers were deployed around the prison to prevent prisoners from escaping, Imran told reporters near the scene.

“The situation is now under control,” Imran said, adding that at least 41 inmates were killed and 80 were injured.

Eight are hospitalized with severe burns and nine with light injuries are being treated at a prison clinic, the Justice and Human Rights ministry said. Another 64, many suffering smoke inhalation, were evacuated to a mosque in the compound.

Tangerang prison was designed to house 1,225 inmates but has more than 2,000, said Rika Aprianti, spokesperson for the corrections department at the Justice Ministry.

She said 15 prison officers guarding the cell block were unhurt.

Laoly vowed to make efforts to prevent a similar tragedy, including to fix electricity problems at 477 prisons across the vast archipelago nation.

Jailbreaks and riots that led to fire are common in Indonesia, where overcrowding has become a problem in prisons that are struggling with poor funding and large numbers of people arrested in a war on illegal drugs.

In April last year, inmates angered by restrictions on family visits and the early release of 115 other inmates to curb the spread of the coronavirus set fire to a prison on Sulawesi island. Earlier in 2020, inmates set fire to a prison in Banda Aceh during a riot.

No deaths were reported from those fires.