Riot rocks coronavirus-hit prison in Sierra Leone

FREETOWN (Reuters) - Smoke billowed from the central prison in Sierra Leone’s capital and gunfire could be heard from nearby streets on Wednesday after a riot broke out, a Reuters reporter said.

The morning violence at Pademba Road Prison followed confirmation on Monday of a coronavirus case there, but the government said late in the day that it believed the unrest was caused by a failed prison break and not related to the epidemic.

The information ministry said authorities were still collecting information about injuries and damage to the facility.

The prison was rocked by a series of riots in the 2000s due to overcrowding and poor conditions. Its numbers have risen in recent days with the transfer of inmates from a reintegration centre back to the prison due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The West African nation has so far confirmed 104 cases of the virus and five deaths. On Monday, the Chief Justice said an inmate at Pademba prison had tested positive for the disease and been transferred out of the facility for treatment.

The correctional centre, designed to house 324 inmates, held over 2,000 in 2019, according to a U.S. State Department human rights report that described conditions in Sierra Leone’s prison system as harsh and life-threatening.

Reporting by Cooper Inveen; Writing by Alessandra Prentice and Aaron Ross Editing by Angus MacSwan/Mark Heinrich