Justice Ministry Focuses on Pretrial Detention

Prosecutors thus far have been slow in responding to minister’s request for stats on accused being detained

Citing media coverage of excessive pretrial detentions in the Cambodian judicial system, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana wrote a letter June 8 to every municipal and provincial prosecutor, ordering them to compile statistics for the min­istry’s inspection of prison detainees who have been held with­out a hearing longer than the legal limit.

“The ministry would like to request the prosecutor to compile statistics of the accused who, up to June 2009, have been temporarily detained longer than the legal limit without a hearing,” the minister wrote in the letter.

But less than half of the pro­vincial prosecutors have submitted their findings from Cam­bodia’s 25 prisons before the June 30 deadline, and as of Thurs­day only 10 have been submitted, General Inspector of the Justice Ministry So Chanthy said. He said the oth­er reports were expected in com­ing days.

Among the collected reports, Kom­pong Cham and Kampot provinces found no cases of ex­cessive pretrial detention, Ban­teay Meanchey listed 13 cases, Kompong Chhnang had three, Svay Rieng recorded four and 18 cases were identified in Kandal province, said Mr Chanthy. He declined to provide statistics for the remaining four provinces-Kompong Thom, Kratie, Takeo and Koh Kong provinces-saying the figures were “very complicated.” He did state, however, that Koh Kong province would have large number of cases, but did not elaborate.

Article 208 of the 2007 criminal procedure code allows the court to detain a suspect up to 18 months in pretrial detention if charged with a felony and a maximum of six months for a misdemeanor. According to the law, provisional detention should be involved if there is a risk of flight, destruction of evidence, witnesses’ being threatened or to protect the safety of the charged person.

Some of the reports, viewed Wednesday, were incomplete and several prosecutors appeared to confuse longer pretrial detention without a trial and detention while awaiting an appeal hearing.

“Some cases are really longer but not wrong within the legal procedure of the court,” Mr Chanthy said. “The Ministry will inspect all of these cases and send the finding to the Justice Minister for his recommendation on whether to release the accused or not.”

Mr Chanthy declined to comment as to whether or not there would be any punitive measures taken against the prosecutors for failing to file before the deadline. He said the reports would take time to arrive in the mail, although the statistics from Phnom Penh were due to arrive late along with more remote provinces such as Ratanakkiri, Mondolkiri and Preah Vihear.

Hing Bunchea, deputy prosecutor of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said on Thursday that he sent his compiled statistics to the ministry the day before. He said the report found more than 60 accused individuals being held in Prey Sar and PJ prisons as they wait to go to trial, but stated they were all within the boundaries of the law.

“There are more than 60 in the list, and upon close inspection all were in accordance with legal procedure and some of them had been scheduled for a hearing,” he said. “Though some cases are more than six months they could not be regarded as longer than legal procedure. There is nothing wrong with the law.”

On Thursday, Mr Chanthy said the capital’s report was still absent.

According a recent report from Licadho that examined 18 of the country’s 25 prisons, 3,611 people were being held in pretrial detention of which 267 were underage. Of the more than 3,600 held, it was unknown how many were being detained beyond the legal limit. The report remained incomplete because of the difficulty accessing documents from the institutions, according to Licadho.

Licadho’s senior prison researcher Nget Sokun said on Tuesday that rights workers often have a hard time gaining access to prison statistics for those in pretrial detention, with the situation particularly bad at Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar and PJ prisons. She said she suspects there are many illegal detentions in those prisons.

Heng Hak, director general of the Interior Ministry’s general department of prisons, said Thursday that his office counts more than 400 accused waiting in pretrial detention nationwide longer than the legal limit. But, he said, his statistics lay in contrast with those of the court because the judiciary always claims a legal right to detain a suspect longer.

“In every case where there is a longer detention, I always write a letter informing the Justice Minister,” Mr Hak said. “In recent days, thanks to the Justice Ministry, the courts started working hard on this matter.”

In June, rights workers in Ratanakkiri province discovered five men accused of robbery had been held for more than four years without a hearing, far beyond the legal limit.

Pen Bonnar, Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator for Adhoc, said on Thursday the five men are still imprisoned and called such violations a “norm and common practice” in Cambodian courts, but justice officials denied the charge saying the instance is merely a malfunction of the court’s administration.

“It became a norm. If anyone has money, they can be released on bail and the one who has no money is always in detention forever,” Mr Bonnar said. “It is a [profitable] business of the court.”

 

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