The Interior Ministry ordered an art exhibition, on the eve of its opening in Phnom Penh Friday, to remove a number of drawings by young people depicting conditions inside prisons housing child inmates, an organizer confirmed.
The four pictures removed from the exhibition at the National Cultural Center were drawn by children between the ages of 13 and 17 who were inmates in prisons in Phnom Penh, Kandal and Siem Reap provinces.
One of the crayon drawings removed from the exhibition, “Experiences and Dreams by Children in Prison,” depicted a child being threatened by a man holding a stick. Another showed a child in handcuffs, and a third featured a guard entering a classroom holding handcuffs.
The Interior Ministry had already removed other pictures deemed unsuitable for public consumption, including one drawn by a 15-year-old boy showing a youth being beaten by three policemen with the accompanying caption: “If you do not confess, I will beat you.”
Legal Aid of Cambodia’s Touch Chiva, who helped run the prison art workshops for child inmates, which culminated in the weekend exhibition, said the Interior Ministry had approved the exhibited drawings.
“A number of officials came, and asked that four other pictures be removed. They wanted to stop drawings that were too critical of the prison system,” he said.
“We are disappointed for the children who did not have their work shown, but we hope that in the future they can all be hung up,” he added.
Aekje Teeuwen, a child rights consultant with Licadho, whose organization along with DanChurchAid Cambodia helped organize the prison painting workshops, which was sponsored by the EU and Denmark’s Danida, said the exhibition was to remind people of the children who are behind bars.
“Children in prison are still children, who need education and training to give them a future outside of prison,” she said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak referred questions on the removal of the pictures to Heng Hak, director-general of the Prison Secretariat, who could not be reached for comment.
Kandal Provincial Prison Director Muong Samath denied any abuse of child prisoners.
“My prison does not mistreat children,” he said.
“I am not aware that any of the staff have been inhumane or cruel to the prisoners,” he added