Thai Prison Riot Sparked by COVID-19 Rumors

  • The Provincial Deputy Governor, Pratchaya Ounpetchvarakorn, confirmed the incident, saying that there had been gunfire at the prison.
  • "The fact is that none of the prisoners in Buri Ram were infected," Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin said.
  • At least two prisoners in the country have tested positive for the highly-contagious coronavirus.

Several prisoners are said to have escaped from Buriram prison in northeastern Thailand on Sunday, when a riot sparked by fears of the coronavirus broke out in the facility. The Justice Ministry has said that seven of the inmates have been re-arrested. During the riot, dozens of prisoners broke furniture and smashed windows.

Buriram Province is one of Thailand’s seventy-six provinces (changwat) lies in lower northeastern Thailand also called Isan. With a population of 1,594,850, it is Thailand’s sixth-most populous province.

The Provincial Deputy Governor, Pratchaya Ounpetchvarakorn, confirmed the incident, saying that there had been gunfire at the prison. The Justice Minister, Somsak Thepsutin, said the protest began at around 11:45 AM in the dining hall, when the wardens were busy working on an isolation cell for inmates infected with communicable diseases.

“The fact is that none of the prisoners in Buri Ram were infected,” the minister said. “They only started this rumor to find some supporters.” The minister added that the visiting areas and the cafeteria were among the facilities torched. “A small group of prisoners received lifetime sentences earlier this week so they spread the rumor that the facility is unsafe for COVID-19,” said a senior Justice Ministry official who sought anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media. “A hundred prisoners joined them in staging the riot,” he added.

Local media showed footage of black smoke billowing from the facility. “There was a group of prisoners trying to escape and were causing chaos,” said Mr. Narat Sawetana, director-general of the corrections department. This “included burning down some facilities inside,” he said. He added that prison officers had to use force against the inmates after more than 100 launched a protest. He said that the cause of the unrest was under investigation.

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), also known as 2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease (2019-nCoV ARD), and novel coronavirus pneumonia (NCP) is a viral respiratory disease caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). It was first detected during the 2019–20 Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.

Major-General, Akkaradej Pimonsri said that the situation was under control and that mental health workers have been deployed to talk to the prisoners following rumors that spread about a COVID-19 outbreak in the prison. The police deputy spokesman, Krisana Pattanacharoen, told the media that police had been deployed to contain the situation, including pursuing the prisoners who had escaped during the riot.

Thailand has so far recorded 1,388 cases of coronavirus including seven deaths. At least two prisoners in the country have tested positive for the highly-contagious coronavirus, the Public Health Ministry said. They did not, however, specify the affected correctional facility.

In a bid to prevent an outbreak in the prison, the authorities have banned visitors and are quarantining new inmates for fourteen days. The corrections department banned inmates’ relatives nationwide from prison visits for fourteen days on March 18. Thailand’s prisons are known for overcrowding. Buriram prison, for instance, holds about 2,000 inmates, both male and female.

Restrictions on movement have been imposed in Thai provinces as 143 new cases were reported on Sunday. Similar panic over the global pandemic sparked a riot in Bogota, Colombia last Sunday that left 23 inmates dead.

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Juliet Norah

I am a freelance journalist is passionate about news. I derive pleasure in informing people about the happenings in the world

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