Amid growing concerns over severe overcrowding in Cambodia’s prisons, five inmates died within a five-day period at Kompong Cham Provincial Prison earlier this month, the human rights group Adhoc and a court official said yesterday.
According to death certificates issued by the Interior Ministry, five men between 22 and 56 years of age died between July 7 and July 11 while doing time at the Kompong Cham prison. One of the deceased was awaiting trial at the time of his death.
“The main cause of death was respiratory…and liver disease,” said Chan Soveth, chief monitor for Adhoc. However, Mr Soveth cautioned against accepting the official version of events.
“There have been no precise checks on their bodies yet,” he said.
Deputy provincial prosecutor Muong Sarin yesterday attributed the five deaths to overcrowding.
“It is too hot and overcrowded,” Mr Sarin said, adding that the prison held more than 800 detainees but was only meant to house 500.
Prison director Hou Puthvysal denied yesterday that the five men had died, before hanging up on a reporter. Heng Hak, director-general of the general department of prisons within the Ministry of Interior, declined to comment.
Mr Hak’s deputy, Kuy Bunsorn, also rejected reports of the five deaths, claiming that only six inmates had died in the entire prison system in the first six months of this year. He declined to comment further.
Adhoc’s Mr Soveth said prison authorities were covering up the truth.
“The denial is to cover up the truth so they are not responsible for monitoring the prisoners,” he said.
Mr Soveth said it was the responsibility of prison officials to conduct an investigation into how the five men died in prison. He said the investigation should also determine whether prisoners were subjected to torture at the jail.
On Monday, the human rights organization Licadho released a report claiming that that Kompong Cham Provincial Prison was filled to 160 percent of its capacity. Licadho also said that Cambodia’s detainee population was growing faster than new prison space, meaning the country’s prison system could become the world’s most overcrowded by 2018 if the trend is left unchecked.
The Interior Ministry death certificates for the five men, which were signed by court officials and obtained yesterday, show that Thy Sokkhoeun, 22, and Pheng Chhay, 36, died on July 7 and July 11, respectively, from respiratory problems. Kung Keut, 47, died on July 11 from liver disease. Man Ya, 49, died on July 10 from a heart attack, and Sum Sovann, 56, died on the same day from a stroke.
Sum Sovann was in pretrial detention after being arrested last May for allegedly killing his wife. He was due to stand trial on July 13.
Of the other four men who died, Kung Keut, Man Ya and Thy Sokkhoeun were all in jail on robbery and theft-related charges, while Pheng Chhay was serving an eight-year sentence for intentional killing.
But Mr Soveth, of Adhoc, said yesterday that the deaths of the five men could have been prevented if conditions in the prison were more humane and the prisoners had received adequate medical treatment.
“It is so crowded, so if one inmate gets a disease that is contagious it will spread,” he said.
Meas Chea, director of Kompong Cham Provincial Hospital, said prisoners from the jail have received treatment at the hospital. The prisoners are never admitted to the hospital but are returned to prison with medication if required. He said he did not know if his staff had treated the five deceased prisoners.
“They come here with the guard and are not allowed to stay. They get medical treatment and medicine and are sent back to the prison,” he said.
“The prisoners have many kinds of disease,” he said, adding that the prisoners often suffer from flu and diarrhea.
“I heard that the prisoners died. But at the prison, not in the hospital.”
Almost all jails in Cambodia are filled far beyond capacity. With a capacity of 314, Takhmau Prison in Kandal province actually holds 1,042. Correctional Center 2, which holds women and children at Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar Prison, holds 777 inmates but is meant only to contain 300, and Kompong Thom Provincial Prison holds 208 inmates in a space only fit for 50, according to Licadho.