Three men awaiting trial for alleged human trafficking for assisting Montagnard asylum seekers were imprisoned in inhumane conditions for over a month in Ratanakkiri Provincial Prison, their lawyer said Tuesday.
Ny Chandy, a lawyer for Legal Aid of Cambodia, said he submitted a request to the prison on May 22 to move his three clients from the cell whose wretched conditions he said amounted to “punishment and torture.”
The three suspects—Sar Nhong, 41, Kralan Phoeun, 33, and Rochang Hloeur, 31—had been detained since April 23 in the 5- by 5-meter cell that housed 16 inmates in total, he said.
Prisoners were let out of their cells only once a day to bathe and empty the bucket that served as a toilet for the inmates, he added.
The cell had small holes near the ceiling to let in light and air, and was used to detain political prisoners after being built in 1985, Ny Chandy said, adding that a prison official told him on Tuesday that his clients had been transferred to a new cell on May 23.
“It affects their health and human rights—dark prisons should not be allowed,” Ny Chandy said. “I wrote a letter to the governor to help build [a new] prison, or at least build windows.”
The suspects were arrested April 20 and later accused of taking money in return for helping the Montagnards, whom court documents describe as “illegal immigrants.”
Villagers and rights workers said the men accepted about $125 to buy food and other supplies for the asylum seekers as they hid in Cambodia’s forests waiting for the UN refugee agency to place them under protection.
Kuy Bunsorn, deputy director general for the Interior Ministry’s prison secretariat, said Tuesday he had heard about the transfer request and instructed the prison director to do whatever was in accordance with the prison rules.
Ratanakkiri prison director Ngel Nel did not answer repeated phone calls, but Kuy Bunsorn denied that the men were mistreated or kept in dark cells with tiny holes for light.
Each prison cell had a 1.5- by 0.4-meter window, which Untac helped install, he said, adding that the government was still working to improve prison conditions.
Adhoc provincial coordinator Pen Bonnar, who also saw the cells in Ratanakkiri, denied the existence of the large windows that Kuy Bunsorn described, adding that NGOs have complained since 2002 about the conditions at the prison. “There are no standards for keeping prisoners, and there is not enough air coming in,” Pen Bonnar said.
Henrik Stenman, acting representative for the UN human rights office in Cambodia, said that his agency was continuing to monitor the men’s case.
(Additional reporting by Suzy Khimm)