KANDAL PROVINCE – At Kandal provincial prison on Monday, about 100 male and female prisoners and pretrial detainees assembled to play games and receive fruit and drinks from rights group Licadho, which is visiting 18 prisons around the country this week in a bid to remind incarcerated people of their fundamental rights.
“Whilst prisoner numbers have decreased slightly in Cambodia in the past year, overcrowded, squalid conditions are common and corruption is widespread,” Licadho said in a statement released on Sunday.
“For most inmates, financial circumstances determine conditions of detention, treatment and access to basic needs such as food, water, daylight and fresh air. Those with little or no money are the most likely to be denied their basic rights and are the most vulnerable to abuse. Pre-trial detainees—those who have not yet even been tried and convicted of any offence—are often held in worse conditions than convicted prisoners,” it adds.
At the prison in Kandal, many of the male inmates said they were serving time for, or awaiting trial on, rape charges. One 16-year-old rape suspect, who has been detained ahead of his trial for four months, said he did not know when he would have his day in court.
“Many people here are being held in pretrial detention,” he said.
Another inmate, a 17-year-old from Kandal province, said he was held for nine months ahead of his trial for rape.
The consensus among a group of inmates assembled Monday in the prison was that there is a deep disparity between prisoners who have money and family who pay them visits, and those who do not.
“Seventy percent of prisoners here have no family helping them,” said the 17-year-old inmate.
“The prison doctor will only help prisoners with money. The rich live in comfort, but the poor live in suffering. When the rich speak, they listen. When the poor speak, they don’t.”
Money is also a factor in getting to the Appeal Court in time—an issue repeatedly highlighted by Licadho, but one that prison authorities say is a result of high gasoline prices.
“That happens to the poor prisoners,” the teenager said. “They miss their appeal hearings, because the authorities say they need $20 for gasoline to take them there.”
Mean Sal, 25, is three years into a 20-year sentence for murder. Her family disowned her upon learning of her crime, and they do not know where she is being held.
“It’s hard for me to live in prison, since my family do not care about me—I feel very upset when I see other fellow prisoners having their families visiting them and providing food.”
A prison cook said there are about 800 inmates who eat meals of soup and rice twice a day.
The three inmates said their rights would be better respected with improved hygiene, sports equipment and an end to payouts that see some prisoners treated better than others.