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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Prison deaths climb at Prey Sar

Prison deaths climb at Prey Sar

Human rights groups say that a lack of prompt medical attention has led to the deaths

from chronic illnesses of at least 14 prisoners since February at the Sokimex-run

Prey Sar prison outside Phnom Penh.

The human rights groups say that the deaths are due in part to a reluctance by prison

authorities to transfer sick prisoners to hospital in time for treatment.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source at human rights group LICADHO, said:

"It seems the ability to save human life [at Prey Sar] is limited. Some prisoners

died in hospital only two hours after being sent there."

San Ny, director of Prey Sar Prison, denied that his officials were reluctant to

send sick prisoners to hospital, although he agreed that a lack of basic medicines

and even water were valid criticisms.

"As head of the prison, the difficulties prisoners face does concern me. However,

the reality is that we do not have the ability to solve all these problems,"

said Ny.

He said the deaths were not preventable and pointed out that villagers living nearby

had also died from preventable illnesses.

Cambodia's jails are renowned for problems relating to corruption, poor food and

lack of medical attention. A recent report from LICADHO stated that 48 prisoners

died in the country's 20 prisons last year from illnesses such as AIDS, and diarrhea

and tuberculosis. The group said that a lack of medical treatment accounted for the

higher death toll.

LICADHO has started campaigning to improve the right of prisoners to receive medical

treatment, and also to improve their legal status and living conditions. It wants

the country to adopt the UN's standard minimum rules on treatment of prisoners. Among

these rules is one that states every prison should have a qualified medical officer

available.

"This is a serious issue for the prisoners," said the source. "We

are not taking their side because they are criminals, but because they have human

rights that need to be protected."

He added that when prisoners were sent to hospital, they were often treated as low

priority cases by medical staff. Other issues the organization raised were those

of corruption and lack of food: he said half of the country's prisoners regularly

received food from relatives to make up for the lack of proper food supplied by the

prison. The other half simply went hungry.

He also said that corrupt officials often forced relatives to pay as much as $30

on their first visit.

Another issue - that of overcrowding - was raised by Peter Leuprecht, the Special

Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a report last year.

Leuprecht said that donor aid would help to improve conditions in crowded prisons

and address the problems of poor food, education and the need to re-integrate prisoners

into society when they were released. Ny said that none of this has happened.

"He [Leuprecht] promised to help improve [the situation regarding] the water

supply and medicine to encourage human rights in Cambodia, but so far I feel disappointed.

He is just paying lip service to us," said Ny.

At the last count, around 460 of the 1,359 prisoners in Prey Sar prison were awaiting

trial.

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