Indonesia declares emergency, releases 30,000 prisoners over virus fear

Adult prisoners would be eligible for parole if they had served two-thirds of their sentences. (Gambar prison.gov.my)

JAKARTA: Indonesia is set to release about 30,000 prisoners early as the Southeast Asian nation seeks to avoid a possible surge in coronavirus infections in its overcrowded prisons.

A document issued by the law and human rights ministry reviewed by Reuters stipulated that adult prisoners would be eligible for parole if they had served two-thirds of their sentences, while children would be eligible if they served half of their jail term.

Ministry spokesman Bambang Wiyono said on Tuesday the parole would encompass around 30,000 prisoners.

Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous nation and President Joko Widodo on Tuesday declared a national public health emergency in a bid to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

Indonesia confirmed 114 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, bringing the total to 1,528, a health ministry official said.

Another 14 people had died, taking the total to 136, the official, Achmad Yurianto, reported.

Some officials and experts believe a lack of testing has masked the scale of the outbreak.

Official data shows there are 270,386 prisoners across Indonesia, more than twice the official capacity of its jails, as a war on drugs has led to a surge in the number of people locked up.

Many centres also lack proper sanitation, which makes inmates particularly vulnerable to the spread of diseases.

Erasmus Napitupulu, executive director of the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR), welcomed the parole, but urged the government to widen it to include more prisoners.

Other countries including Iran and the United States have also released prisoners early in a bid to stem the accelerating spread of coronavirus in jails.

Widodo has said he would impose stricter rules on mobility and social distancing as a study presented to the government warned that more than 140,000 people could die from the coronavirus by May unless it takes tougher action.

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