By Eric Tataw – Washington DC, USA, Thursday, May 28, 2020.
At least three Inmates at the Douala Central Prison fondly called New Bell Prison, a high-security detention facility in Cameroon’s Littoral Region have suffered severe burns after an inferno broke out in the prison, authorities have said.
The victims have been ferried to a nearby infirmary, and are receiving treatment, a source said but didn’t give any further details on their conditions.
Townspeople around Avenue de L’Indépendance, Douala, where the prison is located described the incident that happened just after 3 PM GMT+1, on Thursday, May 28, 2020, as unprecedented.
Onlookers say the atmosphere became grimed when thick smoke hung over the prison precinct, blanketing it.
The city’s major firefighting unit has since the outbreak of the fire been battling to put it out, a warder who asked not to be named told National Telegraph from inside the prison.
Some inmates in the penitentiary say they hope the fire would draw the government’s attention on the need to decongest the facility.
No inmate escaped, authorities say, adding they were quickly put to one corner when the fire started.
This is the second major inferno in the facility after one in 2015. Authorities have blamed both on short circuits.
The prison was initially built to host fewer than 1000 inmates but it’s today home to at least 5000.
Inmates have complained of deplorable conditions within the prison and in their individual cells. There are other reports that some inmates intentionally set the prison on fire to draw attention.
In April, Cameroon’s President Paul Biya signed a decree releasing some prisoners across the country in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in overcrowded jails.
The move from Biya was applauded as the first step but many still think it was far down expectations as the jails still remain overcrowded.
Cameroon now has 5,436 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 165 deaths in a pandemic that has globally infected more than 5 million people with 356 thousand deaths.