- The country has so far confirmed 231 cases of COVID-19, with two deaths reported.
- The Justice Minister said that as of Sunday, no inmates or prison personnel had tested positive for coronavirus.
- She rejected accusations by human rights groups who said that the riots were sparked by unsanitary conditions inside the prison system.
At least 23 people have died in a prison riot in Bogota, Colombia which was prompted by fears over the coronavirus. Due to panic over the spread of the virus, inmates in prisons across the country held protests against overcrowding and poor health services during the coronavirus outbreak.
According to figures from the Justice Ministry, the country’s 132 prisons have an 81,000 capacity, but house more than 121,000 prisoners. The country has so far confirmed 231 cases of COVID-19, with two deaths reported. The country is to begin a nationwide quarantine, which is expected to last nineteen days.
It will restrict movements within the country, with the exception of medical staff, security forces, and pharmacy and supermarket staff. People over the age of 70 have been told to stay indoors until the end of May
Colombia’s Justice Minister, Margarita Cabello, said that 83 inmates were injured during the riot at La Modelo prison in Bogota. Cabello said that 32 inmates and seven guards were hospitalized, adding that two guards were in critical condition. There was a “massive and criminal escape attempt” at La Modelo, one of the country’s largest and most overpopulated prisons. the Justice Minister said in a video address that there were “revolts” at different penitentiary centers in the country.
The Justice Minister described the violence as an attempted mass jailbreak, part of which she said was a coordinated plan with the inmates who caused disturbances in thirteen jails across the country. She rejected accusations by human rights groups who said that the riots were sparked by unsanitary conditions inside the prison system, which was unprepared to handle the global pandemic.
“Today is a very sad and painful day for the country,” Cabello said in a video address. “There were no escapes. Nor was a sanitary problem that could have prompted this plan and these revolts,” she added. The Justice Minister said that as of Sunday, no inmates or prison personnel had tested positive for coronavirus, and that no one had been isolated because of it. “There is not one infection nor any prisoner or custodial or administrative staffer who has coronavirus.”
Relatives of the inmates gathered outside the gates of La Modelo prison as they waited for the news of their loved ones. They alleged shots had been fired after security forces arrived. Video which had circulated on social media showed inmates setting fire to mattresses.
Governments in the region have stepped up efforts to try and slow the spread of the pandemic, which has claimed thousands of lives worldwide. Argentina, Bolivia, El Salvador and Paraguay are among the growing number of countries to impose a total lockdown of their citizens. Chile became the latest South American country to announce restrictions on movement.