Construction is currently underway at Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison for what would be the first mosque situated inside a Cambodian prison, officials said on Sunday.
Kheang Lay, head of the prison security department at the Interior Ministry’s general department of prisons, said followers of Islam being detained at Cambodia’s largest prison would soon have a dedicated building in which to worship.
Mr. Lay, who said he did not know exactly when the construction had begun or when it would finish, welcomed the mosque.
“We want them to have a chance to worship [according to] their religious beliefs,” he said.
He did not know who had proposed the mosque—which is to measure about 15 by 25 meters—or funded it. However, a prisoner, who asked not to be named as inmates are not allowed to use personal communication devices, claimed the funding was coming from a wealthy Middle Eastern backer. There were rumors it could cost about $250,000, he added.
The prisoner estimated that there were about 200 Muslim inmates inside Prey Sar, a figure Mr. Lay could not confirm.
Uch Pong, head of the operations department at the general department of prisons, also declined to reveal who had proposed the mosque, but said its construction was a matter of adhering to the laws regulating the country’s prisons.
“Prison law states all prisoners can practice their religions… [so] we have to do it,” he said.
Ashari Bin Saleh, the director of Islamic humanitarian NGO Cambodian Muslim Cooperatives, praised the project.
“I am happy that the government allowed [them] to build a mosque inside the prison, because it is the place for worship and educating people to return to the good path,” he said.
“We train and change them with physical [activities], but the important thing is their morality. The change from bad to good depends on the morality.”
(Additional reporting by Hannah Hawkins)