Venezuela: 4,000 prisoners on hunger strike

The prisoners are protesting against overcrowding and mistreatment.

Caracas: More than 4,000 inmates of three Venezuelan jails went on a hunger strike in protest against alleged brutality by guards, judicial delays and overcrowding in prisons.

The protest involves 32 of the 80 inmates at Tocuyito prison, some 3,000 in the Aragua penitentiary and another 1,137 at Vista Hermosa prison, the Caracas daily El Universal said.

The protest began in Tocuyito, where inmates reported physical and mental mistreatment by guards following the escape of a prisoner this week.

Antonio Molina, defence counsel for one of the agitators, told El Universal that the guards "have repeatedly beaten" the striking prisoners and have "kicked and smashed their belongings and suspended their visits".

The inmates at Vista Hermosa joined the hunger strike in solidarity with the prisoners in Tocuyito, said Julio Martinez, who has been held for two years in the penitentiary.

"We joined the strike...for the outrages committed against our fellow-prisoners over at Tocuyito, who are kept in solitary confinement, are permitted no visits and are being beaten," Martinez told the Caracas newspaper.

Vista Hermosa is designed for 450 prisoners but currently houses 1,137, nearly three-quarters of them still awaiting trial, Ariza told the daily El Universal.

Aragua`s more than 3,000 prisoners joined the protest complaining about overcrowding, trial delays and the mistreatment by the guards, they said in a communiqué.

The inmates said that the penitentiary was build to hold 600 people but now has 3,400, of whom only 350 have been tried and convicted.

In Venezuela`s overcrowded prisons, 366 inmates died in 2009, according to figures from the independent Venezuelan Prison Observatory.