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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - In prison, everything has a price

In prison, everything has a price

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Former prisoners in Cambodian prisons claim they were often forced to pay bribes to guards and prison officials in order to obtain necessities, such as food and medicine.

Inmates are being exploited in the Kingdom’s prison system by guards who demand bribes in exchange for food, medicine and visiting rights, and intimidate those who secure goods from other officials, according to a report from rights group Adhoc obtained by the Post yesterday.

Chan Soveth, senior investigator for Adhoc which monitors 22 prisons nationwide in all provinces, said that most of the 42 former inmates interviewed by Adhoc this year said they had had to pay guards to obtain food and medicine and receive visits from their relatives.

“All prisoners buy the time out of their cells, the rooms they stay in at night, and extra time to meet their families, and the inmates who have no money are stressed and discriminated against by prison guards,” he said, adding that some guards intimidated inmates who purchased goods from other guards.

Chan Soveth said that inmates were told there was a lack of goods in the prison, when officials were in fact selling food and medicine for their own profit.

Mom Sonongdo, a journalist and owner of Beehive Radio, who was arrested and imprisoned in 2005 on disinformation charges, said that if visitors did not give money to guards, they were also not allowed to see their relatives in prison.

“It is the culture of corruption in Cambodia,” he said.

One former inmate released from prison this month, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the life in prison was “hell” and inmates only lived in good conditions if they had money to pay guards.

“When we got sick, they did not care about us, but if we have money to give to prison guards, they will provide the medicine to treat us,” she said. “They threaten prisoners not to tell NGOs or journalists when they come to interview.”

Sorn Keo, spokesman for the general department of prisons at the Ministry of Interior, denied that prison officials sold goods inside prisons and said that prisoners had the right to ask family members to bring food and medicine for them. “If prison officers [sold goods] as accused, the prison department has a policy to punish those officers, as previously some prison officials got the punishment already,” he said.

In September, former inmates at Banteay Meanchey prison accused guards of regularly accepting bribes in exchange for preferential treatment, including access to food and decent spaces to sleep.

Ngoun Lay, director of Pursat provincial prison, said that officials at his facility were not permitted to sell meals to prisoners, and that he did not take bribe money from visitors.

“Prison guards are allowed to sell only snacks, not [meals],” he said.

Sun Lean, director of Prey Sar prison, could not be reached for comment.

There are currently 28 prisons operating within Cambodia.

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