Prime Minister Hun Sen announced an “emergency campaign” of judicial reform on Thursday, vowing to re-arrest hundreds of armed robbers who bribed their way out of jail and to arrest of corrupt judges and prosecutors.
“There are viruses that cannot be seen: HIV, avian flu, SARS,” Hun Sen said in an address to the annual National Health Congress on Thursday.
“Today I would like to raise a danger we can see: Robbery…. The day before yesterday I ordered the re-arrest of seven robbers…. Five robbers have been re-arrested, and all five have confessed to giving bribes in order to gain release,” he said.
Hun Sen said he will soon ask the Constitutional Council whether judges and prosecutors can be prosecuted by the law when they have been found to be in “collusion” with criminals.
“From now on we have to take action starting today which will allow us to arrest judges and prosecutor,“ Hun Sen said.
“They abused the law, causing pain and the loss of life…blood has been shed, children have been made orphans.”
Hun Sen said two prosecutors in Phnom Penh have been suspended from work already.
“There are three legs on which the cooking pot rests: The legislative, the executive and the judicial. One of these legs is broken,” Hun Sen said.
“We will have to hang the pot up, and we will use the iron fist, Hun Sen’s iron fist, to do it,” he added.
Hun Sen said that this week, co-Ministers of Interior Sar Kheng and Prince Norodom Sirivuddh handed him a report showing that 274 robbers in Phnom Penh were released in an illegal manner, as well as 203 robbers and 166 thieves in eight provincial capitals.
“The report was my nighttime reading. I made a decision at 10 pm. The next morning a team was out in Kompong Speu and arrested five [of those released],” he said.
On Wednesday, Municipal Police Commissioner Heng Pov said that judges Kong Sarith and Ham Mengse and deputy prosecutors Khut Sopheang and Siem Sok Aun could face charges related to the illegal release of five suspects.
Police presented the five alleged perpetrators and accomplices to armed robberies to reporters and said they were being detained while helping police with their investigations.
Hun Sen said that he was sending an emergency order to provincial officials to re-arrest suspects who were released by the courts without following procedures.
He said that of the 369 provincial convicts released, 261 had served less than a year in prison and none served the minimum five-year sentence for armed robbery.
“How could such a thing get so serious as this?” he said. “Most of the judges are doing very well… but a few individuals have destroyed the image of the courts, especially the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.”
The prime minister also blamed corruption in the judiciary for a rise in mob killings.
“In Cambodia we have a saying: ‘In prison you can take a rest.’ Robbers commit their crimes, go to prison for a short time to recuperate and then are free to commit crime again,” Hun Sen said. “Therefore, people kill the robbers because they do not trust the courts…. The health of our whole society is at stake.”