The rising death toll at an overcrowded prison, said by authorities to have been caused by widespread drug overdosing, has raised suspicions among human rights activists.
Pressure is mounting on Venezuela’s government to launch a full investigation into 35 deaths within a week at David Viloria prison, in the west of the South American country,
The trouble began on Monday with inmates going on hunger strike for better conditions, according to prison officials.
They said a violent group stormed an infirmary and drank a lethal concoction of pure alcohol and drugs used to treat epilepsy, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Another 100 prisoners are said to be in comas as they continue to receive treatment for intoxication.
Politician William Ojeda, a member of the country’s ruling Socialist Party, visited the jail on Friday. He said a number of the inmates had been former drug addicts suffering from withdrawal symptoms.
Prisoner rights activists are sceptical of the official version, with a lack of information and access for family members leading to suspicions that inmates might have been poisoned to restore order.
Ligia Bolivar, a human rights expert at Andres Bello Catholic University in Caracas said government information was so incomplete that “counting the deaths now requires going to the morgue”.
President Nicolas Maduro has yet to comment on the incident, despite calls for a thorough investigation from Roman Catholic Church leaders and the UN’s human rights agency.
Government officials have said the situation is now under control after it called in the National Guard and transferred hundreds of prisoners to other facilities.
Mr Ojeda said all prisoners’ rights were being respected in the handling of the incident.
Police arrested the jail’s warden, Julio Cesar Perez, on Thursday. He is expected to be charged in connection with the deaths.
Venezuela’s 32 prisons are among the world’s most violent and overcrowded, housing almost three times their intended capacity according to the International Centre for Prison Studies.
The number of inmates has doubled since 2008 as a result of rampant crime and stuffer mandatory sentences. Last year 506 died in the Venezuela’s jails, according to prison watchdog groups.
David Viloria prison, previously called La Uribana, is named after a guard who was one of 58 people killed there last year during the second-deadliest prison riot in the country’s history.
It was built to hold 850 inmates, but was believed to be holding around 3,000 when the latest disturbances broke out.
Additional reporting by Press Association.Reuse content