The proportion of people reporting torture by Cambodian police while in custody declined for the second year in a row in 2008, but remains at an unacceptable level, according to a new report from human rights group Licadho.
Last year, 3.9 percent of 1,983 prisoners interviewed by Licadho reported being tortured while un-der arrest, down from 4.9 percent of 2,556 people interviewed in 2007. The percentage of prisoners alleging torture while serving sentences decreased from 1.1 to 0.4 percent.
“Cambodian police frequently torture suspects to extract confession, even though the information collected is highly unreliable,” the Licadho report said. “The confessions should not be admissible in court, and police risk jailing the wrong suspects.”
The report said police inflicted a variety of tortures on people held in custody, including beatings, electrocution and sexual assault. Pris-on inmates were more likely to be shackled or forced to carry heavy objects for long periods of time.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak dismissed the report when contacted Thursday, saying he hasn’t gotten a single complaint about torture from suspects in police custody.
“Generally, those prisoners al-ways complain to Licadho,” he said. “Whenever we go to meet them, they never complain about torture committed by police.”
His thoughts were echoed by Heng Hak, general director for the General Department of Prisons.
“As a principle, we never allow torture on prisoners. I have never received any specific report over torture,” Heng Hak said Thursday.
The Licadho study, which covered 10,592 prisoners in 18 of the country’s 26 prisons, also found that 57 prisoners died in Cambo-dian jails in 2008. “The majority of deaths in prison are caused by disease and AIDS-related infections,” the report said.
Heng Hak acknowledged that prisoners have died of complications related to HIV/AIDS, but said prisons cooperate with NGOs to offer treatment. “Some prisoners are not aware they are HIV/AIDS positive, and it is too late to help them when they fall ill,” he said.
According to Licadho, the lar-gest proportion of male inmates in Cambodia were serving sentences for robbery, and the most common crime among female prisoners was human trafficking.