At least three people have lost their lives and nearly two dozen others sustained injuries when a fire broke out at a detention center in the Saudi capital city of Riyadh.
The official Saudi Press Agency reported that the blaze broke out at dawn in Ward 7 of al-Malaz Prison.
The blaze was brought under control before it could extend to other parts and buildings in the prison, Okaz newspaper reported online.
Jail authorities said in a statement that the inmates were evacuated and the injured were rushed to hospital after the fire.
Firefighting “specialists with the help of civil defense were able to bring the fire under control and prevent it from spreading. As a result (of the fire) three deaths occurred and 21 were injured,” the statement read. It, however, did not mention the cause of the fire.
“An investigation is under way into the incident to determine its cause and take the legal procedures,” an unnamed spokesman for the Prisons Directorate, said.
Authorities have held political detainees as well as rights activists at the jail, which is located in central Riyadh and has both male and female prisoners, according to AP.
In a report published in 2011, Human Rights Watch said photos had emerged the previous year showing al-Malaz prison with overcrowded communal cells.
Earlier this year, British daily newspaper the Guardian reported that political prisoners in Saudi Arabia are suffering from malnutrition, cuts, bruises and burns.
The report, citing leaked medical reports that are understood to have been prepared for the country’s ruler King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, stated that the political detainees had been severely ill-treated and suffered various health issues, with remarks including: “The patient suffers from severe weight loss with continuous bloody vomiting. There are also a number of wounds and bruises scattered in several areas of the body.”
Another remark was: “The patient cannot move at all due to wounds in both legs as well as severe weakness in the body due to malnutrition and lack of fluids.”
In most cases, the report demanded urgent transfer of the detainees to a medical center.
Saudi Arabia has stepped up politically-motivated arrests, prosecution and conviction of peaceful dissident writers and human rights campaigners.
Over the past years, Riyadh has also redefined its anti-terrorism laws to target activism.
In January 2016, Saudi authorities executed Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, who was an outspoken critic of the Riyadh regime. Nimr had been arrested in Qatif, Eastern Province, in 2012.