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Officials accused of taking bribes for royal pardons

More than a dozen HIV-positive female prisoners have accused Prey Sar prison officials of taking bribes to recommend inmates for royal pardons and reduced sentences, while ignoring the intended recipients of the pardons — parents, the elderly and the chronically ill.

The women say officials at Prey Sar — which houses 33 of the 496 prisoners who have received royal pardons or reduced sentences in honour of the King Father’s cremation — included the name of just one inmate who was legitimately sick on a list of pardonees submitted to the Ministry of Interior to be passed on to the Royal Palace.

“The prisoners who are going to be pardoned are not patients or old, but [they are on the list] because they are rich, and paid a bribe of $1,500 to $2,000,” an HIV-positive inmate who has served more than nine years and asked not to be named, said. “I only have six months left on my sentence, but I’m not on the list for a pardon.”

On January 10, the government offered royal pardons to 412 prisoners and sentence reductions to another 84 – supposedly focusing on the elderly, sick and pregnant – as a sign of clemency to coincide with the cremation of King Father Norodom Sihanouk.

“We have had good behaviour and hoped to be on the list of pardons during the King Father’s cremation, but we have no name on the list; the names that are on the pardon list are only the rich convicts,” the inmate added, speaking to the Post by phone from Prey Sar.

Another convict, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said that inmates heard the government’s criteria for pardons on a radio broadcast.

“What I heard through the radio and what prison officials implemented is absolutely different,” she said. “I beg and appeal to the [prison] superiors or civil society to help find justice for me.”

Son Soubert, an adviser to King Norodom Sihamoni − who approved the pardons − urged inmates to do just that.

“I don’t think the king is aware of [the allegations], because he received the list from the government, and the list has to come from the government,” he said, noting the commonplace nature of bribes in Cambodian prisons, whose conditions, he had heard, were “totally inhuman”.

“I think the people should complain, and petition the human rights organisations, so the human rights organisations can go directly to the king,” he added, saying he was “sure” the king would be receptive “because he likes justice, and not to be cheated like that”.

Khlout Dara, president of Rehabilitation Centre II at Prey Sar, declined to comment on the allegations, and Kuy Bunson, director general of the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons, could not be reached for comment.

Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator for the rights group Licadho, said the king has the right to release prisoners who have served at least two-thirds of their term, and to reduce the sentences of others, but that the pardon list is often rife with problems.

“Because of irregularities, civil society groups always insist to the government that they should establish an independent [pardon] evaluation committee,” he said. “Because amnesty has previously been given following the prison warden’s requests, rich people always have their names [on the list] to be released, but poor convicts do not, despite trying hard to rehabilitate themselves.”   

Licadho advocacy consultant – and former prison project consultant – Jeff Vize said via email that he hadn’t heard of this particular instance, but the story hadn’t surprise him.

“For the ordinary amnesty application periods – which occur during other holidays – we regularly hear reports that prisoners must pay to apply for an amnesty or sentence reduction,” he said. “[The payments] don’t necessarily guarantee success, though it is likely that additional payments elsewhere could certainly increase chances of success.”

 

To contact the reporters on this story:

May Titthara at titthara.may@phnompenhpost.com and Stuart White at stuart.white@phnompenhpost.com

 

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