Conditions Worsening at Siem Reap and Battambang Prisons

Conditions are deteriorating for hundreds of inmates that were forced by flooding to move to the already overcrowded Battambang and Siem Reap prisons from Banteay Meanchey prison, and human rights groups are not sure how long it will be before the prison is operational again, officials said Monday.

The 836 inmates in Banteay Meanchey prison were evacuated Thursday after severe flooding flattened a prison wall and inundated the prison grounds. The National Committee for Disaster Management says flooding has killed 122 people in the past month.

The prisoner relocation has put the Siem Reap and Battambang detention centers at 172 and 216 percent capacity, respectively, and prisoners are now at a higher risk of contracting disease or “slipping through” the system, rights groups said.

“It is only a short-term relocation but we are concerned about the processes of the jails, the law and the courts during that time,” said Sharon Critoph, prison project consultant for local rights group Licadho, estimating that it would be four weeks or more before the floodwaters at Banteay Meanchey prison cleared.

“Prisoners may have been eligible for hearings, trials or to be released in the next few weeks but now, having been moved, they are at risk of falling through the cracks and being forgotten, especially if their paperwork from Banteay Meanchey [prison] was left behind or destroyed in the flood.”

Hin Saphal, director of Banteay Meanchey provincial prison, said that documents at his prison were safe.

“The documents relating to the prisoners were not lost or damaged,” he said, declining to elaborate on how the court processes would proceed while his facility remained under water.

Crowded prisons are common in Cambodia. A report released by Licadho this year shows that just two of the 18 prisons it monitors have an occupancy rate below 100 percent, with many at twice their official capacity.

Ran Vanchorn, Licadho’s prison researcher in Battambang, said that the female detainees in Battambang prison had been moved to the prison’s medical center in order to free up sleeping space for the 344 new arrivals from Banteay Meanchey.

“The prisoners are having problems finding a place to sleep. Before, there was about 13 people in each cell and now there is 18 or 19,” he said.

Siem Reap provincial prison researcher for Licadho Sar Vannara said that there was not enough floor space for all prisoners to sleep on.

“It is very difficult for the prisoners to sleep here,” he said. “Each time someone wakes up and leaves their place, someone else will take the place and take their turn to sleep.”

“The sanitation is OK here but if the prisoners are here for more than a week, there will be some problems,” he said.

The Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology on Monday released a statement warning that tropical storm Nari would make landfall in Vietnam on Wednesday, causing heavy rains across Cambodia and rising water levels.

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