At least 17 inmates die in Venezuela prison riot

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At least 17 inmates have been killed in a riot at a prison in the Venezuelan city of Guanare, according to military authorities.

A military report cited by AFP news agency said detainees at the Los Llanos prison on Friday staged “a disturbance of public order … resulting in 17 deaths and nine injuries”.

The army gave no reason for the upheaval, but a prisoners’ rights group and a legislator said the riot resulted from prison authorities banning prisoners’ relatives from bringing them food, as is customary in Venezuelan jails, as part of coronavirus containment efforts.

“The prisoners are upset that they are not allowed visits, and they do not have water or food,” Carolina Giron, of the Venezuelan Prison Observatory (OVP), told AFP.

“The vast majority of the prisoners are malnourished and have tuberculosis,” Giron said.

The National Guard report said soldiers fired at a group of armed prisoners as they tried to break out of the main entrance of the prison. One officer with a megaphone then negotiated with the inmates, and they agreed to withdraw, it added.

The report said the military assumed there had been more deaths inside the prison, and legislator Maria Martinez told Reuters news agency that more than 40 people were known to have died.

Martinez said a confrontation broke out between inmates and guards after the prisoners began protesting to demand that their relatives be allowed to bring them food.

Among those reportedly wounded were the prison’s director, hurt in the back, and a lieutenant injured by shrapnel from a grenade.

#1Mayo Los heridos del Cepella colapsaron el área de emergencias del hospital Dr. Miguel Oraá de Guanare, estado #Portuguesa. Aún no hay información oficial sobre la cantidad de fallecidos durante el motín dentro del centro penitenciario. Fotos cortesía de @prensakike pic.twitter.com/INLH1W0Lx5

— Obs. V. de Prisiones (@oveprisiones) May 2, 2020

Pictures posted on the OVP’s Twitter account showed wounded inmates in the emergency area of the Dr Miguel Oraa Hospital in Guanare, 450km (280 miles) southwest of the capital, Caracas.

“There is no official information over the number of deaths during the riot inside the prison,” OVP said, calling for a comprehensive investigation and describing as “dubious” the version of the riot according to which prisoners tried to escape.

To date, Venezuela has confirmed 335 coronavirus cases and 10 deaths associated with COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the pathogen. The country has suspended family visits to prisoners as a precaution measure aimed at curbing the spread of the new coronavirus.

Human rights organisations say prisons in Venezuela are violent and badly overcrowded, with gangs that traffic weapons and drugs in control.

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