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Campaigners expect death toll to rise amid calls for full-scale investigation after 11 inmates and four guards killed in brawl
The bodies of at least 48 inmates have been recovered from a prison, officials in Ecuador have said, after the beating of inmates in the first outbreak of deadly prison violence in almost six years.
Huge brawls between inmates have broken out several times since last June at the Napoleón prison in the Pacific coastal city of Guayaquil and in recent days they spread to the other blocks.
The violence began on Tuesday morning, when 11 inmates, four guards and at least three other inmates were killed and 16 injured.
“One hundred and seventy-two prison inmates have been taken to hospitals for emergency care, and other inmates are being treated at the city morgue,” the justice ministry said.
Luis Manuel Arteaga, spokesman for Ecuador’s prison service, later told reporters that 48 bodies had been recovered and 39 officers and inmates hurt. A further six inmates were identified as missing.
But Relavisla Tamudo, a rights activist at the Campaign for Prisoner Rights, said the violence showed that “there is no justice, respect for human rights, the police are above the law”.
The violence came six years after four inmates and three guards were killed in a brawl at the same prison in December 2011.
Rural and overcrowded, Ecuador’s prisons are home to up to 12,000 inmates, according to the justice ministry.
A large proportion of inmates are awaiting trial. An estimated 60% of inmates in Ecuador are awaiting trial.
That figure is much higher than in more developed nations. Amnesty International says nearly half of Venezuela’s prison population awaits trial, more than 60% of China’s, and a quarter of that in the United States.
Ecuadorean media said many deaths took place on Thursday when an inmate used iron bars to smash the bars on the gate to block the inmates.
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Photographs showed the damaged prison courtyard, where prisoners smashed benches and plastic chairs and burned clothes.
Police said they had reopened the doors after arresting 25 people on suspicion of causing the violence.
Thousands of prison guards held a demonstration demanding that the government address their concerns and take steps to confront overcrowding and corruption.
“We want guarantees that the prisoners’ demands are addressed,” said Juan Carlos Alvarez Marti, a union representative for law enforcement officers.
Human rights groups have long criticized Ecuador’s system of jails and prisons, which was designed to contain 25,000 inmates but holds up to 12,000.
“The flaws and corruption endemic in the prison system are myriad,” Amnesty International said in a report published last year.