Bangkok Post

Virus rumour sparks riot, prison break

At least six inmates currently on the run

- POST REPORTERS

BURI RAM: A riot erupted at the central prison of this lower northeaste­rn province after about 100 hard-core prisoners broke furniture and smashed windows and set a fire over rumours of a Covid-19 outbreak yesterday, Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin said.

A number of prisoners escaped, he said, but seven have since been recaptured.

Citing an initial report, Mr Somsak said the protest began about 11.45am in the dining hall while warders were busy refurbishi­ng an isolation cell for inmates infected with communicab­le diseases.

About 100 inmates, some of them facing a life sentence, set fire to the dining hall and demolished the visiting room for relatives.

Thick smoke was seen billowing from the prison into the sky.

“The fact is that none of the prisoners in Buri Ram were infected [with the coronaviru­s] — they only started this rumour to find supporters,” the minister said, adding the cafeteria and visiting areas were among the areas torched.

Mental health workers were later deployed to reassure prisoners “after some rumours were spread” about a Covid-19 outbreak, deputy Provincial Police Region 3 chief Pol Maj Gen Akkaradej Pimonsri said.

“The situation is under control,” he added.

A number of the protesters escaped during the riot. Although the exact number is yet to be confirmed, local police said they are hunting at least six inmates known to be on the run.

The breakout prompted prison officials to alert the governor and ask police and military personnel to set up checkpoint­s to intercept the escapees.

Mr Somsak said he was last notified that seven of the escapees had been recaptured while inmates who were not involved in the riot had been confined to their quarters for the time being.

He said Pol Col Naras Savestanan, director-general of the Correction­s Department, had travelled to Buri Ram to investigat­e.

Pol Col Naras, in a media interview on a helicopter flight to Buri Ram, said five people were initially reported hurt in the incident but details were still emerging.

The situation was under control but details were not yet clear, he added.

Buri Ram Prison, like other prisons nationwide, has been closed to visitors to stem the coronaviru­s outbreak under the government’s executive decree for administra­tion in emergency situations.

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