Sat, 10 Jul 2004

Mojokerto calm, nine escape Batam prison

ID Nugroho and Fadli, Surabaya/Batam

Inmates at Mojokerto Penitentiary rioted again on Friday morning, prompting the authorities to relocate hundreds of inmates to nearby penitentiaries in East Java province, in order to prevent the melee from escalating.

However, just as the East Java prison revolt seemed to be under control, more prison troubles occurred on Batam, in Riau province, where the police were still searching for at least nine detainees accused of murder, who reportedly escaped late on Thursday.

The rampage at the Mojokerto Penitentiary again erupted after hundreds of inmates protested vociferously against the prison authorities, who had continued to enforce a prison-wide lock down through Friday morning, which meant the Muslim prisoners were not allowed out of their cells to bathe or do their dawn prayers.

The inmates began banging on the bars of their cells and shouting at the guards noisily. Fearing a greater conflict, the guards gave in to the prisoners' demands to allow them out to perform their prayers. Later in the day, the warden decided to relocate 120 inmates to 10 other prisons in a bid to prevent another riot. It is still unclear which inmates were transferred to the other prisons.

"The situation has calmed down somewhat now, after we moved some of the inmates to other prisons," said chief of Mojokerto police precinct Adj. Sr. Comr. Yovianus Mahar on Friday afternoon.

Chaos in the prison broke out on Thursday, after an inmate was assaulted by a prison guard. As a show of solidarity, hundreds of other inmates rioted, pelting windows with stones and damaging other prison facilities. One inmate was wounded and another one was charged with provoking the riot.

Another inmate, who requested anonymity, explained that the unpleasant and unfair conditions in the overcrowded prison were what fueled the conflict. "It's very unfair here. Money rules everything. For example, some inmates have been freed well before they've served all the time they were sentenced to, because they can bribe the prison officials," he said.

The warden of the penitentiary, Mahendra, said he did not want to comment on such allegations. "I have no authority to speak on the matter, because the case is being handled by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights' East Java office," said Mahendra.

Separately, police and prison guards in Batam were busy searching for nine inmates who escaped from the Batam district court in the midst of a trial session on Thursday.

Batam's Chief Prosecutor Chuk Suryosempeno told The Jakarta Post on Friday that the detainees were still in the trial process when they escaped. A hacksaw blade might have been given to them by a visiting friend during the trial.

"We assume that the saw they used to cut through the bars on the bathroom window was provided by one of the visitors when the trial session was going on. They could take their time cutting the bars as it was raining heavily, and the policemen assigned to them were on guard inside the court room," said Chuk.

The nine escapees are Rudi bin Bambang, Karnain bin Syukur, Hardiansyah bin Saiful, Syamsul Lubis, Mane bin Alif, Bikson Sihombing, Budi Tamrin, Hendra Saputra and Sahrul bin Muhdar, aged between 23 and 30 years old. Seven of them were on trial for murder.

He added that the police had taken over the manhunt and were concentrating on the main exit points of the island.

Barelang City Police Chief Sr. Comr. Andayono said, "We have distributed photos of the fugitives and increased the number of personnel at every entry and exit point in Batam."

A similar incident occurred at the Batam penitentiary last year in September when 52 convicts escaped by cutting the metal bars of their cells. They are still at large.

The country's last prison riot occurred four years ago in Cipinang Penitentiary in Jakarta, which resulted in the death of one inmate and injury to several others. The warden of the penitentiary, Andronicus Takasiliang, was replaced after the incident in March 2000.

Penitentiaries that received inmates from Mojokerto Prison

No. Penitentiary Inmates

1. Madiun 22

2. Malang 13

3. Probolinggo 15

4. Lamongan 10

5. Pasuruan 2

6. Tuban 7

7. Tulungagung 10

8. Kediri 20

9. Jember 10

10. Nganjuk 11

Source: The Jakarta Post