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Inmates claim torture and extortion

Families of inmates at Kampong Cham provincial prison said yesterday that their relatives are being tortured and beaten by prison guards attempting to extort money from them, part of what rights groups say is a pattern of abuse in the Kingdom’s detention facilities.

Phat Sambo, 51, a resident of Pralaoh village, in Kampong Cham’s Dambe district, said that since October, her 16-year-old nephew had only been permitted to eat one meal per day and had been subjected to repeated beatings.

She added that she was the only member of her family who could visit the boy because his parents are disabled.

“I told him please try to survive because we are poor, and that if I had money, I would pay to have him released,” Phat Sambo said. “I really pity my nephew.”

Chhum Met, 30, of Chambak village in Dambe district, said guards had ordered her father to pay them between 5,000 and 10,000 riels (US$1.25-$2.50) every four or five days or face vicious beatings. She added that her father, too, was receiving just one meal per day, forcing family members to take food to him at the prison.

“He is old, but he has still been tortured in prison,” she said of her 51-year-old father. “He told me that I need to visit him often because he needs money to pay bribes so that the prison guards don’t torture him.”

Kampong Cham prison director Huo Put Visal declined to comment and turned off his telephone when asked about the allegations yesterday.

As of June, Kampong Cham prison was operating at 160 percent of capacity, according to local rights group Licadho, housing 798 inmates in a space built for 500. This overcrowding, observers say, exacerbates the abusive environment that characterises much of Cambodia’s penal system.

The government has attempted to address the problem, implementing vocational training programmes and raising the daily food allowance for prisoners from 1,500 to 2,800 riels as part of a prison reform project in cooperation with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that began in 2008. Still, the issue remains daunting.

Liv Mauv, deputy director of the general department of prisons at the Ministry of Interior, acknowledged that prisoners were often injured during fights with one another, but denied that guards were involved in beatings or torture. As for food, he said the 2,800-riel allowance allowed prison officials to serve food to inmates twice per day.

“If there is a case where prisoners are being provided food only once per day, that is completely illegal and it is torture,” he said.

“If this has really happened, please have the victims’ families file complaints to me immediately, though I think this is probably just a rumour.”

However, another Kampong Cham resident who declined to give her real name for fear of reprisal said her husband had scars all over his chest from frequent attacks by prison guards and was frequently deprived of his meals.

“My husband said that when the guards are in a good mood, they will allow him to eat twice, but if he doesn’t pay them bribes, they will beat him and he will eat only once,” she said.

Last month, Cambodian representatives appeared before the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva. Following the hearing, the committee recommended that the government enshrine a clear definition of torture within Cambodian law and “ensure prompt, impartial and effective investigations into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment”.

For such investigations to be effective, the government must establish an independent civilian monitoring group to assess torture complaints and follow up at detention facilities, the committee said.

Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for Licadho, a human rights organisation, said his organisation had recorded 101 instances of torture by law enforcement officials during the first 10 months of this year.

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