Sunday 21 January 2018

60 prisoners die, 300 flee in Brazilian prison riot

Relatives of prisoners react near riot police at a checkpoint close to the prison. Photo: Reuters
Relatives of prisoners react near riot police at a checkpoint close to the prison. Photo: Reuters

Mauricio Savarese

At least 60 inmates have died and up to 300 escaped in a bloody prison riot in the Amazon jungle city of Manaus, sparked by a war between rival drug gangs.

Officials described it as the worst violence in more than two decades in Brazil's overcrowded prison system.

Sergio Fontes, head of security for Amazonas state, said the death toll could rise as authorities get a clearer idea of the scale of the rebellion.

Several of the dead had their decapitated bodies thrown over the prison wall - and most of those killed came from one gang.

"This was another chapter in the silent and ruthless war of drug trafficking," said Mr Fontes.

Pedro Florencio, the Amazonas state prison secretary, said the massacre was a "revenge killing" that formed part of an ongoing feud between criminal gangs in Brazil.

The riot began late on Sunday and was brought under control by around 7am local time yesterday.

Authorities were still counting the prisoners to determine how many had escaped but it could be as high as 300, he said.

Just as the riot began in one unit of the Anisio Jobim prison complex, dozens of prisoners in the second unit started a mass escape in what authorities said was a co-ordinated effort to distract guards.

Overcrowding is extremely common in Brazil's prisons, which suffer endemic violence and what rights groups call medieval conditions with cells so crowded prisoners have no space to lie down, and food is scarce.

The Anisio Jobim prison complex currently houses 2,230 inmates despite having a capacity of only 590.

Watchdog groups have sharply criticised Brazil for its prisons where deadly riots routinely break out.

"These massacres occur almost daily in Brazil," said Father Valdir Silveira, director of Pastoral Carceraria, a Catholic centre which monitors prison conditions in Brazil.

He added: "Our prisons were built to annihilate, torture and kill."

In the latest riot, a group of inmates exchanged gunfire with police and held 12 prison guards hostage in the largest prison in Manaus, an industrial city on the banks of the Amazon River.

Mr Fontes said that 74 prisoners were taken hostage during the riot, with some executed and some released.

Irish Independent

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