Lebanon: riots in overcrowded prisons as coronavirus spreads through
Riots erupted in at least two overcrowded Lebanese prisons with an alarming coronavirus outbreak, as many inmates refused to take preventative measures or get tested under the impression that catching the virus could speed up their release as part of a rumored general amnesty, the head of the country’s doctors union warned.
“Overcrowding is the prison’s main problem,” Abu Sharaf said, adding that the 223 detainees who tested positive were being quarantined in a separate building inside the prison compound. He said the vast majority of detainees had minor or no symptoms, and small number had been taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.
The outbreak in the prison east of Beirut, which is notorious for overcrowding, comes as Lebanon is witnessing a sharp increase in coronavirus cases and deaths. Some detainees’ families have urged the state to issue amnesty to certain detainees to reduce the possibility of the virus sweeping through the country’s prison population.
A video apparently leaked from inside Roumieh prison and posted on social media showed dozens of detainees packed in a hall, none of them wearing masks, with one saying: “We are dying inside the prison. There is no food or medicine. There is no protection here.”
Lebanon has so far confirmed 120 cases and three deaths from COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that has led to an unprecedented global shutdown. The total number of cases worldwide is nearing 200,000 with more than 7,600 deaths.
Prisoners and their families in Lebanon have long demanded an amnesty law be passed to release thousands who were jailed for petty crimes including drug use and possession, in addition to alleged involvement with hardline groups.
Lebanon’s political establishment has long promised an amnesty law would be endorsed, but successive governments have failed to come through, and prisons have witnessed recurring hunger strikes and riots by inmates.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government has committed to endorsing such a bill, though it is unclear who exactly would be included.
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