Dozens killed in fire at overcrowded Indonesian prison

Police are investigating cause of blaze at Tangerang jail in which at least 41 people died and more than 70 were hurt.

The family of one of a fire victims mourns outside the prison in Tangerang on Wednesday [Fajrin Raharjo/AFP]

A fire tore through an overcrowded block of a jail in Indonesia’s western Banten province in the early hours of Wednesday morning, killing at least 41 people and injuring dozens.

The fire, which broke out between 1 and 2am local time (18 to 19:00 GMT) at the Tangerang Prison Block C, has now been extinguished.

The block housed inmates being held for drug-related offences. It had capacity for 38 prisoners but more than three times that many were being held there.

Indonesian law and human rights minister Yasonna Laoly visited the scene and confirmed the jail was overcrowded. The minister said inmates were locked in their cells when the fire broke out but with the fire raging uncontrollably, “some rooms couldn’t be opened.”

The minister said two of the dead were foreign nationals, one each from South Africa and Portugal.

“We’re working together with relevant authorities to look into the causes of the fire and, of course, formulating prevention strategies so that severe catastrophes like this won’t happen again,” the minister said in a statement.

Al Jazeera’s Jessica Washington, reporting from outside the prison complex, said that at least eight of the more than 70 inmates who were injured were in critical condition with more than 90 percent burns to their bodies.

There may have also been a shortage of fire extinguishers at the scene, she added.

Investigators from the fire department earlier said they were looking at the defective electrical wiring as a source of the fire.

The electrical wiring at the prison had not been upgraded since 1972 when the prison was built, minister Yasonna said.

[Translation: A fire hit the Tangerang Penitentiary in Tangerang City, on Wednesday 8 September 2021 in the early hours of the morning. This fire left 72 people injured and 41 people dead.]

Kompas TV showed footage of firefighters trying to put out huge flames from the top of a building and the dead being brought out in orange body bags.

The broadcaster reported 41 people had died and eight had been seriously injured.

Those who were injured were taken to two hospitals in Tangerang while those who were unharmed were taken to a different facility within the prison complex, according to the Beritasatu news website.

Dr Hilwani from Tangerang General Hospital told Reuters news agency that some of the bodies had been so badly burned they were unidentifiable.

The prison in Tangerang, an industrial and manufacturing hub near the capital Jakarta, housed more than 2,000 inmates, far more than its 600 people capacity, according to government data as of September.

Al Jazeera’s Washington said overcrowding had been an issue in Indonesia prisons for years.

“Human rights activists have long called to rectify the situation,” she added, the justice reforms were also being pushed to reduce the overcapacity.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters