Young Detainee’s Prison Death Suspicious, Rights Workers Say

An 24-year-old inmate at Ratanakkiri Provincial Prison died Thursday and was buried before his body could be examined to determine the cause of death, a human rights activist said Friday.

Sok Sarith, who was being held in provisional detention for more than three months on suspicion of theft, died Thursday at Ratanakkiri referral hospital, according to Pen Bonnar, Ratanakkiri coordinator of local rights group Adhoc. Prison officials denied a request to inspect Mr Sarith’s body before his burial, scheduled for Friday afternoon, Mr Bonnar said.

“Whenever we suspect unreasonable cause, we ask for an inspection, but they repeatedly denied our request,” Mr Bonnar said. “We worry that the detainee might have died from torture rather than illness because he is quite young.”

Officials from the hospital and the court said Friday that Mr Sarith died from an acute respiratory illness after being admitted to the hospital two days previously.

Hing Sokunthea, director of Ratanakkiri referral hospital, said prison officials sent Mr Sarith to the hospital on Tuesday and he died Thursday afternoon from a lung illness.

“He has died from acute respiratory [illness] of his lung, not by torture,” Mr Sokunthea said. “On his arrival, he was breathing very fast and very bad.”

Mr Sokunthea added that he and other medical staff noticed no bruises on Mr Sarith’s body.

Ros Saram, deputy prosecutor of Ratanakkiri provincial court, said that he went to view Mr Sarith’s body after being informed that a detainee had died, and had no reason to suspect foul play.

“Based on the hospital’s records, he has died from illness, not by anything else,” Mr Saram said. “He died from acute respiratory [illness] of his lung.”

Mr Saram said Mr Sarith had been charged with breach of trust and held in pre-trial detention for more than three months for allegedly stealing a motorbike in Banlung city. He could not recall the date of the alleged crime.

Ngin Nel, director of Ratanakkiri prison, could not be reached for comment Friday.


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