TAIPEI, Feb 12 – Six prisoners at a southern Taiwanese jail committed suicide on Thursday, ending a standoff after taking several staff hostage to complain about their “unfair trials” and demand their release, officials said.
The prisoners shot themselves inside Kaohsiung city prison in the early morning, the justice ministry said, adding that the prison chief and another senior staffer who were being held after a hostage swap were unharmed.
“The police and prosecutors on the scene tried to persuade them to surrender and not to take their lives but they would not listen. We regret that they committed suicide,” said deputy justice minister Chen Ming-tang.
The ministry said negotiations with the six prisoners ran through the night, but did not say what prompted them to kill themselves.
According to Chen, the inmates fired several shots in the air before releasing the staffer around 3:10 am, while the warden walked out of the prison after four prisoners killed themselves two hours later. The remaining two followed suit around 20 minutes later.
– Determined to die –
Prosecutor Chen Chun-hsiu, who led the negotiations, said the inmates knew they would spend the rest of their lives in prison and had intended to kill themselves all along.
“They had expressed their determination to die from the beginning of our communication… they felt that they were not given fair trials and they doubted whether they would ever be released from prison. They were determined a long time ago to end the protest with their deaths,” he told reporters.
President Ma Ying-jeou condemned the prisoners for taking hostages and said all jails would be on high alert while authorities reviewed management procedures to examine loopholes exposed by the incident.
However, he said that he “deeply regretted” that the six prisoners took their lives.
The 14-hour standoff began Wednesday when the inmates — jailed for a variety of crimes including murder, robbery and drugs offences — broke into a weapons storage room, obtained four rifles and six handguns, and took three staff hostage.
They later agreed to release them in exchange for the prison chief and a senior staffer, the justice ministry said.
Television images showed police armed with rifles and protective gear surrounding the prison. A senior Kaohsiung policeman said more than 250 officers had been mobilised.
Lee Rong-tsung, a former councillor at the Kaohsiung City Council who reportedly knew one of the inmates, said they were unhappy about their “unfair trials” and complained that their jail terms were too long.
The leader of the six was identified by police as Cheng Li-teh, a top member of a notorious triad group known as the Bamboo Union Gang. Sentenced to 28 years for murder, he had been behind bars since August 2012.
Cheng complained that Taiwan’s former president Chen Shui-bian — who was sentenced to 20 years for graft — was given parole for medical treatment last month.
“Chen Shui-bian was an inmate too, but why was he paroled and described as a political prisoner?” Cheng said in a statement read out by a justice ministry official.
Chen Ming-tang, the deputy justice minister, dismissed criticisms that the authorities bowed to the prisoners’ requests by reading their demands on television.
“We had to calm the suspects during the negotiations for the safety of the hostages,” he said.