Monitors Denied Access to Prisoners, Records

The government has curtailed access to the country’s prisons and local human rights organizations fear that with the dearth of information, bad jail conditions could be getting worse.

Since September, the Interior Ministry has forbidden local organizations Adhoc and Lica­dho from interviewing pre-trial detainees held in prison. The ministry has also refused to provide updated statistics on the number of prisoners now in jail, rights workers said.

In a Sept 29 letter from Kruy Bunsorn, Interior Ministry pri­son department director, the de­partment rejected a request by Adhoc to examine prison conditions and for the organization to receive updated statistics.

The letter stated: “At the present time in the prison situation, the lives of the most important prisoners are facing problems due to the high increase in prisoners.”

Interviews with jailed convicts are still being granted, but not interviews with pre-trial de­tai­nees, right workers said

Pre-trial detainees make up a large percentage of the Cam­bo­dian prison population due to a backlog of cases at the courts. Some detainees have languished for years without trial.

Adhoc investigator Chan So­veth said that without monitoring, there is no telling what is going on behind prison walls in Cambodia.

“Those prisoners have the right to retain lawyers, meet relatives and get medical treatment,” Chan Soveth said, adding that mo­nitoring plays an important role in preventing torture and killings in prisons.

“It is quite hard for us even to interview Heng Pov,” Chan So­veth said of the recently jailed for­mer Phnom Penh police chief, whom rights workers have said they fear will be tortured in jail.

Chin Lyda, a prison monitor for Licadho, said the Interior Ministry declined to give Lica­dho official prison statistics Dec 22. In 2006, the government also stopped Licadho from giving human rights information to prisoners, he added.

“The statistics are quite important because we can be aware of the number of new arrivals…and which crime is the most common,” he said.

Sak Setha, director-general of the Interior Ministry’s administration department, said he was not aware of the NGOs’ requests.

“We never prohibit human rights groups from interviewing convicts,” he said.

Pre-trial detainees, however, are the responsibility of the courts and rights organizations should apply to the courts for permission, he added.

Sak Setha said he did not know why official statistics were being withheld from public scrutiny. He added that he could not help as, starting from today, he would not be involved with prisons, which are being administered by a new prisons secretariat.


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