In a move seemingly incongruent with the government’s plans to offer clemency to a number of female inmates on International Women’s Day on Sunday, a local rights group announced yesterday that new restrictions introduced by authorities have forced them to cancel prison activities marking the occasion.
Licadho said, “with deep regret”, that its annual prison activities – which include speeches and dances, and providing care packages to female inmates, guards and children living in prison with their mothers – had been cancelled.
According to the group, government restrictions have prevented them from providing a “meaningful celebration”.
“This year’s restrictions prohibit any form of entertainment or event, stipulating that Licadho may only deliver care packages,” the group explained in a statement released yesterday. “Under the current restrictions, there are no guarantees that the women would receive the full packages or get the additional out-of-cell time that is so valued.”
For imprisoned women, “being excluded from such events only magnifies the isolation and alienation most of them encounter on a daily basis”, according to Nou Sam An, Licadho’s prison project supervisor.
But Kuy Bunsorn, director-general of the Interior Ministry’s General Department of Prisons (GDP), defended the restrictions.
“We have to look at their [Licadho’s] activities and ask, ‘so far have they been neutral or not?’” he said, before hanging up the phone.
While the government has prevented female inmates from celebrating International Women’s Day, it is going ahead with plans to mark the event by releasing 16 female inmates who are pregnant or have their children with them in prison.
“We are processing the documents [to pardon the 16 women],” said Justice Ministry spokesman Kim Santepheap.
The decision to release the inmates was initiated by Prime Minister Hun Sen after Licadho released a report highlighting the “devastating physical and psychological consequences” that early life behind bars can have on children.
Be Tealeng, director of the GDP’s operations department, said a total of 43 mothers with children and 24 pregnant inmates had been considered for release before Khmer New Year.
Of the 24 pregnant women, two, who were charged with theft, have already been released, he said.
According to Licadho’s data, more than half of the pregnant women and women with children who are currently incarcerated are in pre-trial detention, meaning they do not qualify for pardons.
But Tealeng said the government was addressing this by releasing the 16 convicted women on Sunday, and then pushing the courts to speed up the hearings of those in pre-trial detention so they can be released before Khmer New Year.