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Prisoners queue up for possible New Year's pardons

More than 600 of the Kingdom’s inmates could be released or see their sentences reduced this Khmer New Year if the King responds favourably to a request made yesterday by the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons, officials said.

Kuy Bunsorn, director general of the department, has asked the King to consider issuing Royal pardons or reducing the sentences of a total of 625 prisoners nationwide between April 14 and 16. But it remains to be seen how many inmates will benefit from the request.

“We are having a meeting to decide on the matter. We do not know the exact numbers,” Bunsorn said yesterday.

Sam Proche Meanith, a chief cabinet member of the Ministry of Justice, said he is also unsure how many would ultimately be released.

“We do not know how many people we will pardon and reduce sentences [for], because [it has been sent] to the Royal Palace for the Royal Pardon and sentence deduction,” Proche Meanith said.

Every year, prisons across the country ask for pardons and sentence reductions for inmates during the national holidays of Khmer New Year, Phchum Ben and the Water Festival, Proche Meanith said.

Last year, the government also asked the King to pardon 412 prisoners across the country and reduce the sentences of 84 to mark the funeral of King Norodom Sihanouk.

Proche Meanith said inmates are only ever considered if they have served at least two-thirds of their sentence, shown good behaviour inside the prison and proved that they can reintegrate back into the community as law-abiding citizens.

But Chan Soveth, a senior investigator with rights group Adhoc, said the pardons and sentence reductions are not always awarded to those most deserving of them, as corruption plays a key part in decision making.

“We are always hearing from the relatives of prisoners [that they will not] be pardoned or have their sentences reduced unless they pay money,” he said.

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