Corruption, Torture Still Rife in Prisons, Report Finds

Inmates at prisons across Cambodia continue to face systematic abuse, squalid conditions and corruption, according to a report released by rights group Licadho on Tuesday.

The report, “Rights at a Price: Life Inside Cambodia’s Prisons,” is based on interviews with prisoners, former inmates, their relatives and staff at 18 penal facilities over the past year. It calls the country’s court and prison systems “corrupt political structures driven by nepotism” that together result in the brutal treatment of inmates. A prison official called the findings “exaggerated.”

“Some had their heads smashed against walls. Objects used during beatings included guns, sticks, iron rods, stun batons, walkie-talkies, handcuffs, chains, ropes, electric cables, bricks and belts,” the report says. It adds that torture was used to extract confessions and involved electric shocks and cigarette burns.

The report also outlines a clear hierarchy inside the prisons by which “basic commodities and individual rights come at a price.”

“The poorest inmates and those without families, or whose families and friends cannot visit them, are, by default, at the bottom of the prison hierarchy. They sleep on the bare concrete cell floors, often near the toilet, and survive on the minimal prison food and water allocated. Some of them spend the majority of their day inside hot, dark and airless cells,” the report says.

On the other hand, wealthy and well-connected prisoners enjoy access to alcohol, drugs, prostitutes and “VIP cells,” it says.

Electricity, medicine and furloughs are granted only to those who can afford to pay, it adds, with one interviewee, identified only as Roatha, claiming she was not allowed outside her cell until her 10th day in prison, and only then because she paid a guard a $50 bribe.

According to the report, there were 15,182 people locked up in Cambodian prisons as of mid-September, 179 percent of the official capacity of 8,500. That makes the country’s prisons the 29th most overcrowded in the world, according to figures gathered by the London-based International Center for Prison Studies.

Figures from the Interior Ministry’s general department of prisons indicate that 63 percent of prisoners are awaiting trial and in many cases have been locked up for more than six months, the maximum amount of time an accused person is allowed to be detained.

Kuy Bunsorn, the prison department’s director-general, said Tuesday that the report’s findings were “exaggerated” in order to elicit funding from donors.

“This organization’s report is the same every year in terms of the accusations of torture, corruption and bad conditions in prisons. It does this to satisfy the donors to get money,” he said.

“I acknowledge that every prison and correctional center across the country has faced issues of overcrowding, but our conditions are not as bad as reported by Licadho,” Mr. Bunsorn said.

“I strongly deny there are issues of corruption as alleged in the report. It’s a groundless allegation and I also deny the allegation by prisoners of torture,” he said.

Mr. Bunsorn said the problem of overcrowding would be resolved when the construction of prisons in Pailin, Kampot, Oddar Meanchey, Siem Reap and Battambang provinces is complete.

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