Negotiators seek to free 122 prison hostages in Brazil

May 18, 2014 - 6:48:43 pm

BRASïLIA: Inmates holding 122 hostages in a maximum-security prison in northeast Brazil resumed negotiations with police Sunday after seizing visiting relatives and four guards.

The hostages spent the night in captivity after the inmates seized them in a riot that broke out Saturday in the Advogado Jacinto Filho prison in Aracaju, the capital of Sergipe state.

A military police captain is leading the hostage negotiations, said Sandra Melo, a spokeswoman for the prison.

"Negotiations resumed very early Sunday. The prisoners requested the presence of a judge and representatives of the state human rights commission, who are now at the prison," she told AFP.

"The situation remains the same. There are 118 family members and four penitentiary employees being held hostage, but we hope it will be resolved soon," said Melo, a lawyer for Reviver, a private firm that co-manages the prison with Sergipe state.

The incident came 26 days before the opening match of the World Cup in Brazil, which has faced protests over the more than $11 billion being spent on the tournament and a series of strikes that threaten to disrupt it, including by police.

No World Cup games will be played in Sergipe, however.

The riot broke out in one of the prison's four wings and involved 123 prisoners, officials said. Talks to free the hostages began Saturday but broke off overnight.

Globo TV showed video of a group of prisoners in blue uniforms approaching negotiators.

According to Melo, the reason for the riot was unclear, though it may be related to inmate demands to be transferred.

The prison holds 476 inmates and has not faced complaints of overcrowding.

Brazilian media reports said the prisoners were also demanding more flexible visitation rules and better treatment.

The riot broke out at the end of family visits and was contained by police before it could spread to the prison's other three wings, reports said.

During the fighting, inmates killed a police dog used to search for contraband, officials said.

The head of military police in the state, Mauricio Iunes, told the G1 news website Saturday that the authorities considered the prisoners' relatives to be only "potential hostages."

"We don't believe that the inmates will hurt their own relatives," he said.

However, he said the four prison guards were genuine hostages because "they are being threatened inside there."

A similar riot broke out two years ago at the same prison and was resolved after 26 hours.

In Brazil there are currently 548,000 people in prison -- and a need for 207,000 more spots to prevent overcrowding, according to Conectas, an organization specializing in inmate rights.

Late last month, six prisoners died and six were wounded in a riot at a prison in the state of Bahia, which borders Sergipe to the south. (AFP)