Convicts on roof, fatalities as Italy jails protest virus

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Relatives of Rebibbia prison's inmates face police after inmates staged a protest against new coronavirus containment measures, in Rome, Monday, March 9, 2020. (AP)
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Inmates' relatives gather to protest measures including a ban on family visits, as part of new rules introduced to contain the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, outside the Secondigliano prison in Naples on March 9, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 09 March 2020

Convicts on roof, fatalities as Italy jails protest virus

  • Some prisoners have been asking to be granted amnesty over the health crisis
  • Rights campaigners warned of mass revolts over the new measures, and families gathered outside prisons to protest at the restrictions

MILAN: Prisoners took to the roof of a Milan jail Monday as part of a string of violent country-wide protests against coronavirus measures, in which six convicts have died.
In another incident, around 50 inmates broke out of jail in the southern city of Foggia, and about 20 were still on the run after their fellow convicts were caught, Italian media reported.
Jails have been ordered to stop all visits and limit day releases.
Some prisoners have been asking to be granted amnesty over the health crisis.
Rights campaigners warned of mass revolts over the new measures, and families gathered outside prisons to protest at the restrictions — and to get news of their loved ones.

Around a dozen prisoners at the San Vittore prison in Milan managed to climb onto the roof of one of the wings and shouted slogans as police and prison guards below looked on.
It was the second day of unrest, with at least 23 jails — from Venice and Milan in the north, to Rome, Naples and Bari in the south — protesting over measures aimed at preventing the virus entering the prison system.
Six inmates died during or following clashes at Sant’Anna jail in the city of Modena in northern Italy, according to prisoner rights group Antigone.
Three died in Modena, while the other three died after being transferred from there to jails in Parma, Alessandria and Verona, Italian news agency ANSA said.
It said there were reports that the prisoners had broken into a medical center in the Modena jail and had overdosed.
Authorities in Modena would not immediately confirm the reports.
Domenico Pianese, head of the police union Coisp, said the mass revolts looked planned and warned that the mafia could be behind such “an evident strategy to try to take advantage of the difficulties caused by the coronavirus.”
At San Vittore, prisoners covering their faces with scarves or bandanas perched precariously on the slanted roof tiles. Fellow inmates could be seen massed around the barred windows at the jail in the Italian capital.
Relatives rallied outside many of the concerned jails in protest over the measures, including a ban on family visits.
“We’re urging inmates and relatives to stop violent protests, as they could spark others,” Antigone’s Andrea Oleandri said.
“The situation could rapidly deteriorate.”
Prisoners, who get most of their information from televisions, tended to protest in solidarity if they saw convicts in other jails rioting, Oleandri said.
Family members desperate for news of their loved ones had to be held off by prison guards at the entrance to the Modena jail, as ambulances and prison vans came and went, an AFP photographer said.
“This rumpus, this ‘war’ happened because the inmates hadn’t been given any information about what was going on outside, and visits had been suspended,” said Gilberto, the father of one prisoner who did not want to give his last name.
“No-one’s telling us who’s died, who is injured, or why they died and why they were injured,” the 59-year-old told AFP.
Italy’s prisons are suffering from overcrowding, with over 61,000 inmates locked up in spaces designed to hold just 51,000.
The country has been hard hit by the virus — with 366 fatalities so far — and the government has imposed draconian measures to stop it spreading further, including placing large swathes of the north under lockdown.
As well as halting visits and limiting day releases, all prison staff are supposed to have their temperatures checked on arrival each day. Medical checks for incoming inmates have also been ramped up, Antigone said.
“The prisoners are worried the virus will get into jail and spread,” Oleandri said.
“They are in confined spaces. There are usually two or three people in a 12-meter square cell. And while visits have been suspended, there are still lots of people coming and going,” he said.
Antigone has called for more inmates with only a short time left to serve to be allowed to do so at home, reducing the numbers behind bars.
Amnesty International Italy said it was “deeply concerned” by the violence and stressed that the “critical hygienic-sanitary conditions” in jails demanded the utmost precautions be taken to limit the risk of contagion.


Kabul to rebuild birthplace of famous poet Rumi

Updated 28 January 2021

Kabul to rebuild birthplace of famous poet Rumi

KABUL: Afghan authorities are planning to rebuild a 13th-century Islamic teaching complex in Balkh province that once was home to one of the world’s most famous mystics and poets, Jalaluddin Rumi.

Rumi was born in the Balkh complex in 1207. The learning site, which comprised a mosque, monastery and madrasa for hundreds of disciples, belonged to his father, the theologian Bahauddin Walad, known by Afghans as Sultan Al-Ulema.

A few years after Rumi’s family left Balkh around 1210, the prosperous town northwest of the provincial capital, Mazar-e Sharif, was destroyed by Genghis Khan’s Mongols storming in from the northeast. 

Work to rebuild Balkh took more than a century and the learning site remained in ruins. Centuries later, when billions of dollars of foreign aid began to reach Afghanistan following the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, the Kabul government came under fire for failing to restore Walad’s center.

However, restoration work is now due to begin in spring with the onset of warmer weather.

“It will be rebuilt in a classic and traditional manner,” Shivaye Sharq, Afghan deputy information minister, told Arab News last week.

“With the revival of the monastery, we hope to introduce people to a lost treasure,” he said. “In addition to the monastery, there will be a museum, a studio for sama dance, a cultural salon, garden and library.”

The whirling dance of sama is associated with Rumi, whose followers practice it as a form of prayer and devotion. 

Since Rumi lived most of his life in Anatolia, Turkey, and was buried in Konya, where his shrine became a place of pilgrimage, the Turkish government years ago pledged to help rebuild his father’s center, but the promise has not been fulfilled.

Matiullah Karimi, head of the information and culture center in Balkh province, said the $7 million cost of the restoration project will be covered by the Afghan government.

“A portion of a massive mud-built dome and four smaller ones are the only things left from the monastery,” Karimi told Arab News.

“Restoring this monastery is important for safeguarding our cultural heritage and learning, and it will be good for the tourism industry as well,” he said.

For Afghan scholars, the restoration of the learning center will also help society at large.

“The advancement of a nation is not gauged by the rising buildings, long roads and wealth that do not promote knowledge and science, but by libraries, knowledge and centers like Walad’s, which was a source of hope for many,” Hashmatullah Bawar, a social sciences lecturer at Kabul’s Dunya University, told Arab News.

The appeal of Rumi, who in the 21st century is still considered one of the world’s greatest and also bestselling poets, reinforces the enthusiasm over the reconstruction of his father’s center. 

“Rumi inherited his mystical thinking from his great father,” Saleh Mohammed Khaliq, head of Balkh Writers’ Union, told Arab News.

“Humanist and mystical thought is badly needed in our current world, which has become a victim of violence and wars.”