Fourteen Prisoners Stranded in Jail Without Documentation

Fourteen Cambodians arrested in Thailand and transferred to the Banteay Meanchey provincial prison between 2011 and 2012 are stuck in limbo without the paperwork necessary to secure their release despite having served their sentences, according to rights group Adhoc.

Of the 14, six were slated for release in 2015 and the remainder were set to be freed last year. With the exception of one prisoner, Ly Reth, 37, their crimes are unknown, Adhoc spokesman Sam Chankea said.

The rights group provided a letter from the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok and addressed to the Foreign Affairs Ministry and copied to the Interior Ministry, detailing the prisoners’ names and dates of their intended release, along with a request for approval. The letter dated March 9 was signed by the embassy’s temporary Charge d’Affaires Chanrasmey Lay.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry said he was not aware of the cases. Adhoc said it had received the letter from Mr. Reth’s mother, but why it came five and six years after the prisoners’ transfer and how it ended up in her possession was unknown.

Officials at the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok and the Foreign Affairs consular office could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Reth served a nine-year sentence in Thailand on drug charges before being extradited to Cambodia where he was to serve out the remainder of his sentence, his mother, Soum An said. He has now been in jail for an additional year beyond the time he was due to serve in Cambodia, according to the embassy letter.

Ms. An, who lives in Takeo province, said the distance made it difficult for her to visit him and the financial burden, in his absence, was becoming heavy.

“It’s been so long…. I am helpless. I could not afford to visit my son more often. [Banteay Meanchey court officials] told me they are waiting for the proper document to release him and I don’t know where I can get them,” the 59-year-old widow said.

Mr. Chankea said Adhoc had opened an investigation into the excess prison terms this month after Ms. An contacted the Banteay Meanchey office about her son and presented them with the letter. But he said Adhoc staffers had not yet been allowed to make contact with any of the 14 prisoners and had little other than their names with which to work.

“It’s sad that this case has been ignored,” Mr. Chankea said. “It is obviously against their human rights.”

The Banteay Meanchey court’s deputy prosecutor, Sok Keobandith, said he also had little information and therefore could not do much to help.

“If we don’t have enough documents, no verdict, how can I take action on it? Who doesn’t want to release them? Our prison is very full now,” Mr. Keobandith said.

Chan Kimseng, director of the Interior Ministry’s general department of prisons, said he was also unaware of the case and questioned how he could act without the necessary documentation.

“If you want me to take action—I can’t, unless I receive a letter first,” Mr. Kimseng said.

In Banteay Meanchey, Mr. Chankea said the group would gather technical experts and lawyers to help investigate the case before bringing its findings to the Justice Ministry. He said Adhoc was also in contact with Thai human rights groups in an effort to gather more information and additional documentation on the case. Mr. Chankea declined to identify any of the groups by name.

len@cambodiadaily.com

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