SAO PAULO (AA) – Four inmates were killed in a prison riot in southern Brazil on Sunday, local media cited the Paraná State Prison Department as saying.
Two of the dead are known to have been beheaded and a number of others have been injured at the facility in the city of Cascavel. The other two fatalities occurred when a number of prisoners were pushed off the roof.
At least two prison guards are still being held hostage. Some reports say one guard had been freed.
(UPDATE: Monday, 15:00 — Officials who were negotiating an end to the riot suspended work on Sunday night, but restarted efforts this morning. As of 3pm there is still no change in the situation.)
At least 700 inmates are said to be involved in the incident, which began at around 6:30am when prisoners were being served breakfast.
By the afternoon, inmates could be seen on the roof of the prison building beating men with roped around their necks, with banners emblazoned with the letters “PCC” – referring to the First Command of the Capital, a prison gang which began in São Paulo in the 1990s.
Local media reported that at least one of the hostages was being “psychologically tortured” with rioters placing one of the severed heads in his lap.
Reports from the scene showed ambulances taking injured inmates away for treatment, and said negotiators were still attempting to bring the situation under control.
According to the G1 news portal, the facility in question holds over 1,000 prisoners, but only 10 custodial agents were on shift at the time the riot began.
Inmates are apparently demanding improvements to food, hygiene and visiting rights, and the incident also sparked a protest by relatives of the prisoners, which went on to close a nearby highway later on Sunday afternoon.
Not Brazil’s first prisoner beheadings
Sunday’s incident is not the first time inmates have decapitated fellow prisoners in Brazil.
In January the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper published a video leaked from the notorious Pedrinhas prison, in the northeastern state of Maranhão, showing three inmates who had been murdered in the same grisly way.
The Pedrinhas prison is infamous for being severely overcrowded and ruled by gangs, as is the case in many of the country’s penitentiary facilities.
Local reports and human rights groups warned that prisoners were being executed both by inmates and prison staff and demanded the situation be brought under control.
Human Rights Watch said the prison housed around 6,200 inmates, twice the number of inmates it was designed for, and that 60 inmates were killed in 2013, according to the country’s National Justice Council.
At over 500,000 inmates, Brazil has the world’s fourth largest prison population, after the United States, China and Russia.
A large proportion – at least a third – of Brazil’s prison population is awaiting sentence.