BOGOTA (Reuters) – A prison riot in Colombia’s capital Bogota late on Saturday left 23 prisoners dead and 83 injured, the justice minister said on Sunday, as detainees protested sanitary conditions amid the global outbreak of coronavirus.
Thirty-two injured prisoners are hospitalized, Justice Minister Margarita Cabello said in a video, while seven prison guards were also injured. Two guards are in critical condition.
The Andean country will enter a nationwide lockdown meant to stem infections from Tuesday night. So far 231 people have been confirmed infected with the disease and two have died.
“Today is a very sad and painful day,” Cabello said. “Last night there was a mass criminal escape attempt at the El Modelo prison and riots in various detention centers around the country.”
Graphic cell phones videos were posted to social media late on Saturday showing what appeared to be the inside of the prisons. Some showed small fires, others injured prisoners and guards.
In one video, a man says the incarcerated have been “abandoned like dogs” amid the virus outbreak.
Reuters could not independently verify the origin or authenticity of the videos.
No prisoners escaped during the riots, Cabello said.
“There is not any sanitary problem that would have caused this plan and these riots. There is not one infection nor any prisoner or custodial or administrative staffer who has coronavirus.”
The office of the human rights ombudsman called on the government to declare a prison emergency which could allow early release for older prisoners.
“This way there could be exceptional circumstances that would facilitate releases and temporary rules for those over 60 and with sentences of up to eight years,” the office said on Twitter.
Colombia’s 132 prisons have an 81,000-inmate capacity but house more than 121,000 prisoners, according to figures from the Justice Ministry.
The second Colombian to die from coronavirus was a 70-year-old woman in the city of Cali, the health ministry said on Sunday. Her daughter arrived in Colombia from Cuba, where she had been in contact with a person from the United States who is positive for the virus.
The daughter currently has a cough, the ministry said in a statement, while the victim’s 74-year-old husband is hospitalized and positive for the virus.
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