Less than a week after Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered three ministries to prepare for the release of 40 incarcerated women who are either pregnant or recently gave birth in prison, a Justice Ministry committee Thursday decided that 16 women would be released before March 8, an official said.
In a speech Monday, Mr. Hun Sen called on the ministries of interior, justice and women’s affairs to prepare for the release of 40 women before the Khmer New Year in April.
“I dare to do this because the power is in my hands too,” he said.
Justice Ministry spokesman Kim Santepheap said a committee established following Mr. Hun Sen’s speech met Thursday at the ministry to discuss possible candidates who will be released before International Women’s Day on March 8.
“We selected one pregnant woman and 15 women who are staying in prison with their children,” Mr. Santepheap said. “We will check to find more women to give pardons to before the Khmer New Year.”
He added that throughout Cambodia’s 28 prisons, the Justice Ministry found there were more than 20 pregnant women and more than 40 women incarcerated with infants.
Mr. Santepheap said the committee had only chosen women who had served at least two-thirds of their sentences, but did not say what other conditions they had to meet or what crimes they had committed.
He said women in provisional detention were not candidates for pardons.
“We will send a report to Samdech Prime Minister [Hun Sen] to ask permission from the king to issue a sub-decree that will give pardons to these women,” he said, adding that the government plans to release pregnant women and new mothers from prison each year.
Human rights group Licadho released a report last month that said pregnant women and new mothers have little to no access to specialized health care in Cambodia’s prisons.
Nou Sam An, Licadho’s prison project supervisor, said Thursday that granting pardons was not a viable long-term solution for these women.
“They should have a real plan to help the women and the children who have to stay with their mothers,” Ms. Sam An said.
“We think prisons should have a place where women and children can stay away from the crowds and get enough medical care.”
(Additional reporting by Chris Mueller)