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Media blamed for tense moments during prison standoff

2015/02/12 16:07:05

Taipei, Feb. 12 (CNA) More details about the prison hostage crisis that ended Thursday morning when six inmates took their own lives emerged later in the day as public criticism grew over local media outlets' fervor to get exclusive angles on the story.

One of the tensest moments during the 14-hour standoff came in the wee hours of Thursday, when the six armed inmates who were holding two hostages fired into the air in an apparent attempt to bring down an unknown number of photography drones deployed by the media.

Bursts of gunfire rang out as many of the reporters waiting outside the prison fence thought the police were beginning to storm the area where the hostage-takers had been holding out.

But their reports drew commendation in the comments sections from Web users calling it another example of reporters going too far in their pursuit of headline news by provoking the hostage takers.

Even more contentious is how at least one reporter and one talk show host managed to talk Cheng Li-te (鄭立德), the lead hostage taker, and Warden Chen Shih-chih (陳世志), one of two prison officials being held by the inmates.

Interviewers have been criticized for giving a voice to the aggressors.

Such actions could have agitated the hostage takers and caused the situation to spin out of control, said Yeh Yu-lan (葉毓蘭), a former professor at Central Police University.

The crisis ended at about 5:40 a.m. Thursday morning after all six of the armed inmates shot themselves with the firearms they took from the prison armory. Both the warden and the other hostage, a head guard named Wang Shih-tsang (王世倉), walked free and were unharmed.

When explaining how the six inmates were able to overcome prison guards, Deputy Warden Lai Chen-jung (賴振榮) said the inmates led by Cheng, the leader of a Kaohsiung chapter of Taiwan's infamous Bamboo Union (竹聯幫) crime group, were armed with a disassembled pair of scissors they had used in a prison workshop.

Lai admitted that the inmates should not have been able to take the scissors out of the workshop without being detected and called it a failure on the part of prison management.

When visiting the infirmary, the inmates attacked a guard from behind and took the master keys form him, Lai said.

The guard and a man who works at the prison as alternative military service sustained minor injuries in the initial attack on Wednesday afternoon, he said.

According to some reports, the inmates worked their way to the armory with the guard's keys and fire extinguishers, where they grabbed rifles, pistols and more than 200 rounds of ammunition.

There were exchanges of fire early on when the inmates tried to break out of the prison and again early Thursday, when police apparently got too close to the hostage takers.

Lai said that the inmates were not motivated by complaints about prison management as reported, but rather took their hostages because they saw no chance of being free again for the rest of their lives.

The six had been serving lengthy sentences of between 25 years and life imprisonment for drug-related crimes, robbery and murder. As repeated offenders who had violated previous parole rules, they had no hope of getting future parole.

After the first hostages were taken, the deputy warden and head guard offered to take their place. The warden later took Lai's place alongside Wang.

(By Jay Chen)

Related stories:
●Feb. 12: Authorities used caution in handling Kaohsiung prison crisis
●Feb. 12: Kaohsiung prison hostage crisis ends in suicide of six inmates