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Indonesia charges three prison officers over deadly fire

Rights groups call on authorities to ensure senior officials don't escape punishment for blaze that killed 49 inmates

Indonesia charges three prison officers over deadly fire

Police officers investigate the fire at Tangerang prison on Sept. 8 that killed 49 inmates. (Photo: Kemenkumham)

Indonesian police named three prison officers as suspects on Sept. 20 in connection with a deadly fire at an overcrowded prison this month which killed dozens of inmates

The three, who were not named, are accused of negligence and could face up to five years in prison, according to Tubagus Ade Hidayat, the Jakarta police's general crimes director. 

Fire swept through Tangerang prison near the capital Jakarta in the early hours of Sept. 8, killing 49 inmates and injuring dozens of others. Most inmates were asleep when the blaze broke out. 

Hidayat said the three prison officers were named as suspects following an investigation that involved testimony from witnesses and experts and a review of CCTV footage.

They are accused of failing to evacuate 122 inmates in the worst-affected prison block, which was only meant to accommodate 40 prisoners.

Most of the inmates were convicted on drug, terrorism and murder charges.

The fire should warn the government to evaluate prison overcrowding

The prison had almost 2,100 inmates, almost four times its capacity. 

Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia, told UCA News that he welcomed the police move but questioned whether the three officers were solely to blame for the tragedy.

“Is it a fair decision to only name the officers as suspects?” he said, adding people at a higher level must surely have a case to answer.

Vincentius Hargo Mandirahardjo, chairman of the Association of Indonesian Catholic Intellectuals (ISKA), said blaming staff should not cover up the real issue of chronic overcrowding in Indonesia’s prison system.

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Tangerang prison is one of 404 overcrowded prisons and jails out of a total of 525 such facilities in Indonesia.

"The fire should warn the government to evaluate prison overcrowding," he told UCA News.

More prisons are needed as is a review of sentencing which puts so many in prison in the first place, he said.

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