Jakarta. A mass escape from Sialang Bungkuk Prison in Pekanbaru, Riau province, on Friday (05/05) appears to have been only the tip of the iceberg of what goes on at the overcrowded facility.
In one of the biggest breakouts in Indonesian history, 442 inmates reportedly escaped after tearing down a gate near a mosque inside the prison complex following Friday prayers.
In response to the incident, Justice Minister Yasonna Laoly visited the prison holding 1,800 inmates but which was designed to accommodate only 391.
"I have heard complaints that there were completely irresponsible acts by staff [prison guards], who committed extortion," the minister was quoted as saying by state-run news agency Antara on Sunday (07/05).
He said there are indications of a deliberate decision to crowd nearly 2,000 inmates into the facility as part of a plan to make inmates more prone to extortion.
The minister said the government will not only impose administrative sanctions on officials suspected of extortion, but that they may eventually taste some of their own medicine.
"There is no tolerance for those who are proven to have committed extortion and taking money [from prisoners]. Hopefully there is enough evidence and it is up to the police how they investigate it. I want to throw them in prison so they will know how it feels [to be inside]," Yasonna reportedly said.
Various local media outlets have reported not only on the overcrowded conditions, but also about alleged harsh treatment and violent acts committed by guards, which resulted in a riot and the mass escape.
BeritaSatu News Channel interviewed the parents of some inmates, who complained of insufficient health care and poor access to clean water and food, in addition to overcrowding and extortion by prison guards.
"You know how much? Rp 7 million [$525] is what they [the guards] ask to provide security [for inmates] inside the prison. To open the doors [for visitors to meet inmates] costs a packet of cigarettes. [...] For a five-minute visit it is Rp 30,000, and for additional time it is another Rp 30,000," said Usman, the father of one of the inmates.
Ferdinand Siagian, head of the regional office of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, told reporters that the government will thoroughly investigate the incident.
The Riau Police meanwhile said at least 263 of the escaped inmates have already been recaptured with help from the military and members of the local community.
"I hope those still on the run will return [on their own accord], as it is better than being chased by police," Yasonna said.