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Prison guards on trial for torture

Three jail guards and two former colleagues will appear in a Kampong Cham court on

August 30 charged with torture. The case marks the first time in nearly ten years

that prison staff have been prosecuted for such offenses.

The men are alleged to have punched, kicked and beaten five prisoners who tried to

escape from Kampong Cham's prison on December 13, 1999. Several of the prisoners

were knocked unconscious in the attack, which reportedly took place in front other

prisoners to deter others.

Human rights group Licadho, which released a study of torture in prisons two years

ago, called the case "a critical test of the judiciary's willingness to uphold

Cambodia's strict laws against torture". The NGO said the last prosecution of

a prison official for torture was in 1993. Jason Barber of Licadho's Project Against

Torture, said such trials were rare.

"Unfortunately there is not much willingness ... to investigate crimes against

those in custody," he said.

Prosecutor Ouk Touch played down the case saying it was not a "serious offense"

as it was difficult to recapture escaped prisoners simply by talking to them.

Sam Ni, deputy director at the Department of Prisons, said he was pleased such trials

took place, but disputed the allegations in this case. He said the prisoners were

injured when they fought the guards after their recapture.

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