Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday ordered the ministries of interior, justice and women’s affairs to prepare the relevant documents to release from prison 40 incarcerated women—who are either pregnant or recently gave birth in prison—once they have served two-thirds of their sentences.
“I dare to do this because the power is in my hands too,” the prime minister said in a speech to graduating students in Phnom Penh. “By prison law, there is room for the prime minister to use this right to ask for a royal pardon at any time. I don’t violate the law.”
Mr. Hun Sen added that he hoped the release of the women would be accomplished before Women’s Day in March, or before Khmer New Year in April.
Kim Santhepheap, spokesman for the Justice Ministry, said a working group had already been established to speed up the release of the women.
“They are working on this matter,” Mr. Santhepheap said. “I believe there will be no problem, because the working group is working extremely hard on this.”
Despite his professed consideration for women prisoners, the prime minister could not resist the impulse to take a jab at land-rights activists whom he claimed were behaving outrageously so that they could win awards for being jailed.
“One person, who was jailed and then released from prison, went to Washington to pick up a medal,” he said, referring to anti-eviction champion Tep Vanny, who in 2013 received an award from Vital Voices, an organization started by former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
After a stint in jail in 2012, she is currently back in prison—along with nine other women from the eviction-hit Boeng Kak neighborhood—after being arrested in November for blocking a road in Phnom Penh to protest flooding in their neighborhood.
“Some people want to be jailed because they want to get the medal,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
“If they protest in a normal way, they will not be jailed. So, they have to commit offenses so they can be put in jail,” he added. “When they get in the prison, they become heroes. So, we give them what they want.”