zondag 3 mei 2020

Prison fire in Freetown

My housemate told me about a prison fire in Sierra Leone that happened a few days ago. I searched for the news and read that five inmates and two guards were killed in the fire (*). The fire was caused by inmates during riots and a possible attempt to escape. The protests started after cases of the coronavirus were reported inside the prison. President Bio had announced on Independence Day, April 27, that a number of prisoners would be released as part of the health measures, but in the following days no such releases had taken place yet. The Pademba Road prison in the Sierra Leonean capital Freetown is the most well known prison of the country. It was built in 1914 by the British for 300 prisoners but now houses as much as 1000 inmates. The infamous prison also played an important role during the civil war in the 1990's up to 2002. I have seen the prison - from the outside that is - during my visit of Sierra Leone in 2014. So when my housemate told me about a prison fire in Freetown I immediately mentioned the Pademba Road prison.

We discussed that whatever crime the prisoners are in for, the government is responsible for their well being. On the other hand we talked about the stupidity of starting a fire while you are locked up, leading to such dramatic results. I was reminded of a fire in the prison cells at Schiphol airport years ago, which was caused accidentally by a smoking prisoner in one cell but developed rapidly into an inferno, leaving 11 prisoners dead, as the guards left the door of the burning cell open. The victims weren't criminals but illegal foreigners awaiting deportation to their home country. I wrote a blog (**) (in Dutch, 20-09-2006, 'Schipholbrand') about the government's responsibility.

Back to Sierra Leone. The country is trying to keep the coronavirus out, having experienced the dramatic ebola epidemic in 2014/15 that kept the country, especially all schools and universities, in a lockdown for almost a year. Apart from the loss of lives, it struck the poor country very hard economically. Until now the registered number of deaths due to the coronavirus is four, far less than in Europe and the United States. Hopefully the virus will go away before it can do much more harm. It's painful that the prison fire caused more 'corona-related' deaths than the virus itself so far.

* News sources:


** Styloblog:

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