By Ayman Al-Saidalani
MADINAH — Seven disabled inmates of the Madinah Comprehensive Rehabilitation Center died mysteriously in the last month, with the latest death occurring just three days ago. His body was found inside a septic tank outside the center.
The Ministry of Social Affairs has formed a three-member committee to investigate the deaths. The committee will start its tasks next week and it is expected to provide the Minister of Social Affairs with their findings.
The minister has also issued a decision to appoint a new director for the ministry’s office in Madinah following the new developments. He also ordered the relocation of 17 inmates with severe health conditions to different hospitals in Madinah.
Hatim Barri, present director of the ministry’s branch office in Madinah, turned down repeated requests from Okaz/Saudi Gazette to comment on the latest developments.
“All cases died of natural causes,” he said rejecting accusations leveled at the center that the staff members have been negligent in performing their duties. “Our centers are among the best in the Middle East in terms of services and state-of-the-art technology. The media should be more accurate when it reports news about the Madinah centers.”
Muhammad Al-Awadhi, spokesman for the Ministry of Social Affairs, also attributed the recent deaths to natural causes, rejecting the charge that shortage of cadre or negligence might have been the causes of death.
The Okaz/Saudi Gazette reporter who visited the inmates inside the center noticed that four inmates were being attended by one intern. Also medication was improperly stored at the facility.
Commenting on the increase of inmate deaths, Abdullah Al-Yusuf, undersecretary for social services at the Ministry of Social Affairs, said the latest victim had snuck out of the center early Saturday morning when the rear gates were opened for the water tank truck to get in. The police were called in and the inmate was found dead the following morning inside a septic tank.
“We’re still waiting for the forensic doctor’s report which will reveal the causes of death. Let me assure you that the ministry has formed an urgent committee to investigate into the case.”
Col. Fahd Al-Ghanam, spokesman for Madinah Police, said the Saudi inmate was in his twenties and suffered from mental retardation, deafness and muteness. He managed to escape from the center’s rear gates and fell into a septic tank.
His corpse lies in King Fahd Hospital’s morgue while investigations continue by the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution.