Nearly 70 inmates staged a brazen escape from a detention centre in South Africa’s wine-producing town of Malmesbury on Friday after overpowering guards, before most were re-arrested, the government said.
The inmates, who were awaiting trial, broke out around midday during routine physical exercise at the facility situated about 65 kilometres (40 miles) north of Cape Town, the Department of Correctional Services said in a statement.
“The escapees overpowered officials, took the keys and locked three officials in a cell and opened other cells before escaping through the main entrance and over the roof,” it said.
Police immediately launched a manhunt and re-arrested 61 of the 69 escapees.
The centre was holding 451 offenders and there were 20 officials on duty at the time of the incident in the town surrounded by wheat and wine farms.
California will release up to 8,000 more prisoners to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in its crowded jails, according to authorities in the US state, one of the hardest hit by the pandemic.
The inmates could be eligible for early release by the end of August — joining 10,000 prisoners already freed in similar initiatives since the start of the virus crisis, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said.
“These actions are taken to provide for the health and safety of the incarcerated population and staff,” the department’s secretary Ralph Diaz said in a statement Friday.
The announcement, welcomed by prison reform advocates, follows a surge in COVID-19 cases in one of California’s oldest prisons, San Quentin.
State Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday said the outbreak there was a “deep area of focus and concern” after more than 1,000 inmates tested positive.
The San Quentin facility this week made up half of the active coronavirus cases in jails throughout the state, which has a total prison population of about 113,000.
Friday’s statement said the prisoners to be freed, who include inmates from San Quentin, would be tested for COVID-19 within a week of their release.
California, the most populated US state with a population of around 40 million, has confirmed more than 300,000 coronavirus cases and over 6,800 deaths from the disease.
Qatar on Sunday began enforcing the world’s toughest penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment for failing to wear masks in public, as it battles one of the world’s highest coronavirus infection rates.
More than 30,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the tiny Gulf country — 1.1 percent of the 2.75 million population — although just 15 people have died.
Only the micro-states of San Marino and the Vatican had higher per capita infection rates, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Violators of Qatar’s new rules will face up to three years in jail and fines of as much as $55,000.
Drivers alone in their vehicles are exempt from the requirement, but several expats told AFP that police were stopping cars at checkpoints to warn them of the new rules before they came into force.
Wearing a mask is currently mandatory in around 50 countries, although scientists are divided on their effectiveness.
Authorities in Chad have made it an offence to be unmasked in public, on pain of 15 days in prison. In Morocco similar rules can see violators jailed for three months and fined up to 1,300 dirhams ($130).
Qatari authorities have warned that gatherings during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan may have increased infections.
Abdullatif al-Khal, co-chair of Qatar’s National Pandemic Preparedness Committee, said Thursday that there was “a huge risk in gatherings of families” for Ramadan meals.
“(They) led to a significant increase in the number of infections among Qataris,” he said.
Neighbouring Saudi Arabia will enforce a round-the-clock nationwide curfew during the five-day Eid al-Fitr holiday later this month to fight the coronavirus.
– Labourers at risk –
Mosques, along with schools, malls, and restaurants remain closed in Qatar to prevent the disease’s spread.
But construction sites remain open as Qatar prepares to host the 2022 World Cup, although foremen and government inspectors are attempting to enforce social distancing rules.
Officials have said workers at three stadiums have tested positive for the highly contagious respiratory virus. Masks have been compulsory for construction workers since April 26.
Tens of thousands of migrant labourers were quarantined in Doha’s gritty Industrial Area after a number of infections were confirmed there in mid-March, but authorities have begun to ease restrictions.
Khal said that most new cases were among migrant workers, although there has been a jump in infections among Qataris. He said the country had not yet reached the peak of its contagion.
Rights groups have warned that Gulf labourers’ cramped living conditions, communal food preparation areas and shared bathrooms could undermine social distancing efforts and speed up the spread of the virus.
More than 60 cases of coronavirus infections have been recorded in a jail in southern Morocco, mostly among staff, the country’s prisons service said.
The DGAPR agency, in a statement late Monday, said 60 workers and six inmates had tested positive for COVID-19 at the prison in the town of Ouarzazate after checks were carried out on all prisoners.
Nine staff and two inmates had previously tested positive at a jail in the southern city of Marrakesh and in Ksar Kebir, in the north of the kingdom, it said.
The prison service said that cases of contamination in Morocco’s prisons — which hold a total of 80,000 inmates — were under control because of “preventives measures” such as quarantines for workers with the respiratory disease.
At the start of April, more than 5,650 prisoners were released to reduce the risks of the spread of coronavirus, which has cost 144 lives in Morocco and contaminated more than 3,000 people.
Other Middle East and North African countries have also released prisoners, a measure UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has called for across the world as part of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Morocco, a country of 35 million, has closed its borders and imposed a lockdown until May 20, enforced by security forces, to stem the spread of the disease.
According to Cabello, 83 inmates and seven guards were injured in the disturbances inside La Modelo. Around half the injured prisoners were hospitalized, and two of the guards were in “critical condition.”
“There were no escapes,” she added.
The head of Colombia’s prison authorities, General Norberto Mujica, said his forces had taken back full control of the prison.
“Our guards prevented the escape from being carried out. We achieved that today and as a result are not looking for 5,000 prisoners that would have escaped.”
The government rejected accusations that the riots were sparked by unsanitary conditions inside a prison system unprepared to face the coronavirus pandemic.
“There is no health problem that would have caused the escape plan and these riots,” Cabello said.
“Today there is not a single infection, and no prisoners, nor administration or custodial officials, that have the coronavirus.”
Brazilian authorities said Tuesday they had recaptured 586 inmates who escaped from their minimum-security prisons after their right to leave on temporary furloughs was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But they estimated that 789 others remained on the run, after a series of riots Monday in four prisons in Sao Paulo state.
The riots broke out when authorities announced they were suspending the inmates’ right to leave for up to five week-long home visits per year.
They said they feared the returning prisoners would bring “heightened risk of spreading the new coronavirus among a vulnerable population” — their fellow inmates.
But that caused hundreds of prisoners to rebel against their guards, set fires and escape.
In all, at least 1,375 inmates fled, though authorities are still completing the count, the state penitentiary administration said.
The escapees were being held in “semi-open prisons,” which allow inmates to leave during the day for work and make extended home visits periodically.
The recaptured inmates “will lose the right to benefit from the semi-open system,” state prisons official Nivaldo Cesar Restivo told TV network Globo.
“They will now serve their sentences in normal prisons.”
Brazil has also suspended visits in its five federal maximum-security prisons over the coronavirus pandemic.
The country confirmed its first coronavirus-linked death on Tuesday.
The four-year trial of a former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Olisa Metuh, came to an end on Tuesday after the Federal High Court in Abuja found him guilty and sentenced him to seven years in prison.
Metuh was sentenced on seven counts of money laundering and criminal diversion of funds to the tune of N400 million.
According to Justice Okon Abang, the sentence is expected to take effect immediately (today, February 25, 2020).
See photos of him being taken to the Nigeria Correction Services, Kuje.
A fire erupted in a Riyadh prison early Thursday, killing three inmates and injuring 21 others, Saudi state media reported.
The inmates were evacuated and the injured were rushed to hospital after the fire broke out at dawn in Al-Malaz prison, jail authorities said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency said.
Firefighting “specialists with the help of civil defence were able to bring the fire under control and prevent it from spreading,” the statement said.
“As a result (of the fire) three deaths occurred and 21 were injured.”
It did not state the cause of the fire, but said an investigation had been launched.
Accidental fires are common across the desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia, sometimes because of lax enforcement of safety regulations.
In September, five people were injured in a fire that broke out at a new high-speed train station in the western city of Jeddah, according to state television, with huge palls of smoke seen rising into the air.
The station serves the main Haramain High Speed Rail system, which transports passengers between Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holiest sites.
A High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), sitting in the Apo area of Abuja has remanded 60 members of the proscribed Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), otherwise called the Shiite group to Kuje prison in Abuja and Suleja prison in Niger State on remand.
The 60 proscribed IMN members were arrested during the July 22 bloody protest at the Federal Secretariat area of Abuja, which led to the death of a Deputy Commissioner of Police, Usman Umar, and Precious Owolabi, a National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member with Channels Television.
They were arraigned before the court on November 27 by the FCT Command of the Nigeria Police.
The suspects were arraigned on charges bordering on homicide, disturbances of public peace, and destruction of government properties.
They had, however, pleaded not guilty to the charges preferred against them by the police.
On resumption of the case on Tuesday, counsel for the defendants, Mr Bala Dakum, informed the court that he had filed a bail application on behalf of the Shiite members.
When the court drew his attention to filing only one bail application for the 60 defendants, which was brought by way of summon, Dakum said he would withdraw it.
He subsequently did in order to file separate applications for the defendants.
Justice Sulaiman Belgore then struck out the application, having been withdrawn by the defence counsel with no objection from the prosecution.
As a result, the prosecuting counsel, Mr Simon Lough, requested that the defendants should be remanded in Kuje and Suleja correctional facilities.
Lough, who is a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), asked that 54 male defendants be remanded at the correctional facility in Kuje, while the remaining six defendants who are females be sent to the Suleja correctional on remand.
He also applied that trial of the defendants be held where they are remanded for convenience, adding that the trial should be given an accelerated hearing considering their number.
The prosecution’s oral applications for the remand of the defendants and trial being held where they are being remanded were not opposed by their counsel.
Ruling on the applications, Justice Belgore held that having not been opposed by the counsel for the defendants, the court was minded to remand the defendants at the correctional facilities.
“The defendants be remanded at the correctional facilities. They are to be remanded at Kuje and Suleja correctional yards. Trial to be held in Kuje correctional yard,” he ruled.
The judge then adjourned until February 5, 2020, for the commencement of trial which he ordered to be on a daily basis.
President John Magufuli on Monday ordered that around 5,500 inmates be freed from Tanzania’s overcrowded prisons at a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the country’s independence from colonial rule.
The populist president, who has publicly expressed both sympathy and derision for the country’s prison population, announced the mass pardon at an event marking Tanzania’s national day.
“I believe this will relieve those who were jailed on minor charges, and those who were unable to have lawyers represent them or money to pay fines,” Magufuli said in Mwanza, a city on the shores of Lake Victoria.
“The pardon will also help to decongest our prisons.”
Magufuli, who came to power in 2015 as a corruption-fighting “man of the people”, has toured overcrowded prisons in the past and ordered authorities to free those being held for long stretches without trial.
Tanzania’s current prison population is around 36,000, the government says, with some facilities considerably over capacity.
In July, Magufuli said his visit to a jail in Mwanza left him “saddened” because many prisoners had languished there many years without trial.
But he also drew criticism from rights watchdogs in 2018 by ordering that prisoners be made to work “day and night” and suggesting they should grow their own food and be kicked if they are lazy.
Magufuli’s talent for high-profile appearances that bolster his reputation as a no-nonsense leader have made him wildly popular among some.
But his intolerance of criticism, impulsiveness and disregard for due process worry others who see authoritarianism at the core of his populism.
The United States and Britain in August expressed concern about the steady erosion of due process under his rule, pointing to a growing tendency of authorities to resort to lengthy pre-trial detentions.
Nicknamed “tingatinga” — meaning “bulldozer” in Swahili — Magufuli has cowed the press, and many of his political opponents are routinely arrested. Some opposition activists have been kidnapped and beaten.
For the first time since his election, the main opposition party, Chadema, attended the national day celebrations, sharing the stage with Magufuli.
Chadema leader Freeman Mbowe called for a return to democratic norms and freedom of expression in Tanzania, which goes to the polls next year to choose a president.
“Mr President, you have the chance to make history by rectifying all these challenges,” he said.
Chadema boycotted last month’s local elections, citing intimidation, handing the ruling party a sweeping victory in polls criticised by the international community as lacking credibility.
Magufuli, 60, has not said whether he will stand for re-election to what would be his second and final term.