Prison riot over coronavirus fears kills 23 in Colombia

Riot police outside La Modelo prison in Colombia, where a deadly riot over coronavirus fears erupted on Sunday. — Courtesy photo

BOGOTA — Rising tensions over coronavirus in Bogotá's La Modelo prison led to a riot, resulting in at least 23 deaths.

Colombia's Justice Minister Margarita Cabello described the violence as an attempted mass breakout, saying 83 inmates were injured during the riot at one of the city’s largest jails.

It was part of a coordinated plan of inmates who caused disturbances in 13 jails across the country, Cabello said.

Inmates at prisons across the country held protests on Sunday against overcrowding and poor health services during the coronavirus outbreak.

The minister, however, brushed off claims of overcrowding and poor health services in the country’s prisons, saying: "There is not any sanitary problem that would have caused this plan and these riots.

"There is not one infection nor any prisoner or custodial or administrative staffer who has coronavirus."

She said prisoners had run amok and some would be charged with attempted murder, and damage to property.

A large number of relatives gathered outside the gates of La Modelo prison to await news of their loved ones. They said they had heard of shots being fired after the security forces arrived.

The country's 132 prisons have an 81,000-inmate capacity but house more than 121,000 prisoners, according to a BBC report citing figures from the country’s justice ministry.

Colombia has reported 231confirmed cases of coronavirus so far and two people have died from it. — Agencies