41 people are killed in fire at overcrowded Indonesian prison

41 people are killed in fire at overcrowded Indonesian prison blamed on electrical fault

  • Fire broke out on Wednesday in a block housing prisoners jailed on drug charges
  • Minister said 31 had minor injuries, eight had serious injuries, and at least 41 died
  • Indonesian prison was operating at more than three times its designed capacity 
  • Initial inspections suggest the blaze was caused by an electrical fault, police said

At least 41 people have been killed in a fire at an overcrowded Indonesia prison blamed on an electrical fault. 

The blaze tore through the overcrowded cells early today while most inmates were asleep, injuring dozens and burning many of the dead so badly they could not be identified. 

Firefighters extinguished the blaze – which was mostly contained within one block that housed prisoners jailed on drug charges – at around 3am (8pm GMT Tuesday) and evacuated the victims.

Television footage showed a massive fire raging through the prison block with thick smoke billowing from the building. At least two of the victims were foreign nationals, one each from South Africa and Portugal.

‘Forty died on the scene and one died on his way to the hospital,’ said Yasonna Laoly, Indonesia’s justice minister, adding that eight were seriously injured and 31 sustained minor injuries.

Authorities were still investigating the cause of the incident at Tangerang Penitentiary, just outside the capital Jakarta, but suspected an electrical fault may have been to blame. 

At least 41 people have been killed in a fire at an overcrowded Indonesia prison blamed on an electrical fault (pictured, health care workers carry a body bag for identification)

Indonesia’s justice minister Yasonna Laoly said 31 inmates had minor injuries, eight had serious injuries, and at least 41 died 

Firefighters have extinguished the blaze which broke out in a block (pictured) that housed prisoners jailed on drug charges

Jakarta police chief Fadil Imran said:  ‘Based on early observation, it is suspected (the fire) happened because of a short circuit’.

Laoly said the prison’s electrical system had not been upgraded since it was built over 40 years ago, in 1972.

‘The fire spread quickly and there was no time to open some cells… When the guards found out, the fire had already spread, and that’s where we found the victims,’ Laoly added.

He said police had started identifying victims but that DNA testing would probably be needed for some of the bodies that were hard to recognise.

Marlinah, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, raced to the local hospital after officials called her home to say her younger brother Muhammad Yusuf had died.

‘I just hope the procedure is not complicated so I can bring my brother’s body home for burial,’ she said, tearing up.

Police have started identifying victims but that DNA testing will probably be needed for some of the bodies that were hard to recognise, Jakarta’s police chief said

At least two foreign nationals – from South Africa and Portugal – have been confirmed as among the dead

Ambulances arrived in front of Tangerang correctional facility in Indonesia after a fire broke out and killed more than 40 inmates

Justice Minister Yasonna Laoly (pictured) confirmed 40 people died in the fire with one more fatality on route to the hospital

Laoly confirmed that there were two foreign nationals, a South African and a Portuguese, among the dead, but did not elaborate on their convictions.

He said he was coordinating with Indonesia’s foreign ministry as well as relevant embassies and consulates to organise repatriation or burial.

Among the dead, one was convicted on a terrorism charge, one for murder and multiple others on drug charges.

‘I would like to convey deepest condolences to the victims’ families, I don’t want this to happen again,’ Laoly said.

The penitentiary department’s website showed the jail had just over 2,000 inmates, more than three times as many prisoners than it was designed to hold.

The block where the fire broke out had a maximum capacity of 40 prisoners but housed 120, penitentiary directorate general spokesperson Rika Aprianti told Metro TV.

The block where the fire broke out (pictured) had a maximum capacity of 40 prisoners but housed 120

A relative of a victim of the Indonesian prison fire sits on the bus taking her to a police hospital to help identify the dead

Police and relatives have been sent to hospital to identify victims after many were so badly burnt they could not be easily recognised 

Overcrowded, unsanitary conditions are common in Indonesian prisons, which contain about 270,000 inmates, and jailbreaks are frequent.

In 2019, at least 100 prisoners escaped from a jail in Riau province, Sumatra after a riot and fire broke out.

In April last year, Indonesia released about 29,000 inmates in a bid to stop Covid-19 from rampaging through a prison system known for its unsanitary conditions.

Safety measures are often lacking in the Southeast Asian country of nearly 270 million.

In 2019, 30 people – including several children – were killed when a matchstick factory exploded in North Sumatra after a worker accidentally dropped a lighter on some flammable materials.

This morning’s fire is the country’s most deadly since 47 people perished in a firework factory disaster in 2017.

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