Brazil Prison Riot: Mass Decapitations as At Least 52 Killed
By Staff, Agencies
At least 52 inmates died, with 16 decapitated, in a prison riot Monday in the northern Brazilian state of Para, the state’s prison authority said, underlining the struggle Brazil’s far-right government faces to restore order in the country’s jails.
State authorities said the riot began around 7 a.m. local time Monday in a prison in the city of Altamira, and involved rival criminal gangs who took at least two penitentiary officers hostage as they battled one another. The officers were eventually freed.
Videos circulating online showed inmates celebrating as they kicked decapitated heads across the floor.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the footage.
Brazilian TV stations showed footage of thick black smoke rising from the prison compound and people sitting on the roof of a building.
Other images showed flames inside a building that almost reached the ceiling and people, apparently prisoners, sitting on the ground outside. “It is likely that many detainees died from asphyxiation [from smoke],” the government official said, adding the death toll could rise.
Around 300 prisoners were being held at the jail, the official said, which reportedly has a capacity for 200.
Elected on a tough-on-crime message, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has benefited from a sharp drop in homicides this year.
Nonetheless, endemic prison violence serves as a reminder of the ongoing public security challenges he faces in one of the world’s most violent countries.
The grisly riot is the latest deadly prison attack this year. At least 55 inmates died in May during an attack in a lockup in the northern state of Amazonas. In 2017, weeks of violence in Amazonas resulted in 150 prison deaths as local gangs backed by Brazil’s two largest drug factions went to war.
As Brazil’s incarcerated population has surged eightfold in three decades to around 750,000 inmates, the world’s third-highest tally, its prison gangs have come to wield vast power that reaches far beyond prison walls.
Bolsonaro’s government has proposed moving powerful incarcerated drug lords to federal lockups, and building more prisons at the state level. However, with the vast majority of prisons run by Brazil’s overstretched state governments, Bolsonaro is limited on what he can achieve from Brasilia.